Living in Southern California means being accustomed to movies finding yet another way to destroy Los Angeles and seeing all kinds of novels written about our fair or not so fair city. Given how stressful this city can be for its inhabitants, I was intrigued when I saw the title for bestselling author Neil McMahon’s newest psychological thriller, L.A. Mental. There are lots of things that could cause Angelenos to go mental, not least of which is their commute every day. Neil McMahon has taken a lot of the elements intrinsic to LA and woven them together into an exciting, smart new take on the psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat!
Some very prominent Los Angeles citizens seem to be going on bizarre rampages, having “accidents” or killing themselves. In a megapolis like LA, stories like those are just blips on the radar of what’s happening on a day-to-day basis so no one’s seeing any kind of thread. They all just look like isolated incidents of people who’ve had it and can’t take it anymore. Nothing new, right?
Tom Crandall is a psychologist who teaches at a West San Fernando community college. He’s fortunate or cursed, depending on how you look at it, in that he comes from a very wealthy, very prominent Southern California family. Although it has provided him with a lot of advantage, it also has its down side. Everything anyone in the family does, good or bad, is immediate fodder for the paparazzi.
Tom’s brother, Nick, is the wildest child in the family – you know the one I mean, the one the family tries to keep under wraps but who you read about in the tabloids – the one who’s been in and out of rehab but can never seem to fly right. Tom is the responsible one in the family, the older brother who takes care of everyone else and makes sure things go according to his parents’ wishes. Sigh, the burden of the oldest sibling.
So he’s not terribly surprised to get Nick’s panicked phone call from the family’s boarded up Malibu beach house, even though Nick isn’t supposed to be there. What alarms him, however, is that Nick sounds terrified of something. That’s a first. Nick keeps saying there are worms eating his brain and that someone or something is after him. Tom can’t help but wonder in the back of his mind what horrible scrape he’s going to have to bail Nick out of this time.
“’Something’s fucking with me,’ he [Nick] said in that same tense whisper – struggling not to lose control. ‘It snuck into my head, and I can’t get rid of it. It made me come here all alone. Now it’s after me.’ He wasn’t just out of it. He was scared.”
In weighing the possibilities, Tom is afraid Nick has gotten into some kind of bad drug trip and something horrible will happen to him so he rushes to Malibu to try to prevent suicide or something equally horrifying from happening. Nick is not at all rational by the time Tom arrives and, in their struggle, Nick falls from the beachfront cliff into the surf below. Although Tom is able to rescue him and get him to the hospital, Nick’s condition is iffy at best.
“’Stay calm, brother,’ I said. ‘I’m here for you, like we talked about a little while ago. Remember?’ His stare stayed riveted on my face. ‘There. Are. Worms. Eating my brain.’ He declared in a chilling hoarse croak – the kind of flat-affect certainty I’d seen in psychotics whose inner voices goaded them to sudden assaults, arson, or murdering their infant children.”
To protect the family, Tom removes some suspicious white powder from Nick’s car and has it analyzed at the hospital. He’s not surprised to discover it’s cocaine; however, there are peculiar, inactive nano-like particles in it. When he goes to Nick’s bungalow in Topanga to try to find out what’s going on, he surprises someone on a motorcycle and finds the house completely ransacked. That’s beyond odd because Nick’s prior irresponsibility resulted in the family placing him on an allowance and Tom knows Nick can’t have any money or valuables in the house.
Unfortunately Tom still thinks there’s a simple psychological and/or drug reason for what happened to Nick. He has no clue he has stumbled on a masterfully orchestrated cult-like plot that could have dire possibilities for the human race. For some reason, cults thrive in places like California. Some are more harmless than others. As Tom uncovers more odd clues about a group called Parallax, he begins to realize he may have stumbled across something that could make Manson look like an amateur. Was Neil strung out on drugs or did he have a psychotic break, or did something else cause him to go berserk? Can Tom trust anyone, even himself?
Psychological thrillers like L.A. Mental are some of the most terrifying to me because they are so realistic when done well, and they can cause their characters to doubt their own minds. McMahon’s masterful interweaving of technology, break-through scientific research, cult mentality, the film industry, psychology, power, greed, and family dynamics results in an edge-of-your-seat E-ticket ride.
Because McMahon holds a degree in psychology from Stanford, he is extremely adept at the psychological aspects for this kind of thriller and it shows on every page. I really recommend this gripping and chilling novel; however, make sure you’re rested up when you start L.A. Mental because you will not be able to put it down.
Because L.A. Mental was released on September 27, 2011, it’s available from your favorite bookseller below.
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