Saturday, April 08, 2006
In the vista are two authors, Joseph Telushkin and Allen Estrin, who have joined heads to chill the breath of mystery nuts with their paranormal psychological thriller Heaven’s Witness (Toby Press, Connecticut, USA, 2004). The prologue of this 462 pages, hardbound, chiller sets one’s curiosity on heels in a second and keeps the reader’s breath stranded for a pretty good while.
To call Heaven’s’ Witness a unique thriller of its kind would be overlooking an overwhelming number of thriller books and movies. Those Indian flick maniacs are long familiar with the ‘transmigration of soul’ belief and even in Hollywood it is not a novel idea. Heaven’s Witnes's specialty is the way it has attempted to reconcile the age-old idea of soul survival with the partially explored realm of paranormal psychology.
In the novel, we meet Robin Norris, a young actress of twenty-five, who is taken in deep hypnotic trance by a psychiatrist Jordan Geller. In a state of regression, Robin assumes the identity of a seventeen-year old girl Beverly Casper and describes a horrifying murder scene of the teenager, a murder that took place seven years prior to Robin’s birth. Who can resist leaping up! The story thus proceeds in the usual suspense movie style with a series of murders of teenage girls, each killing followed by a message to the parents from the Messenger, the serial killer. Suspects get shifting in the reader’s mind and the protagonists run themselves in deeper trouble before finally coming up with the Messenger’s real identity.
Two things undermine the novel’s take over. First, the question killer who? is answered nearly in full by the time we read a little more than half of the book. Second, the curiosity about why is quenched at nearly the same time. What is worse is that the main hook in the story Is Robin’s account an instance of reincarnation or a rationally possible revival of suppressed memory? is left unresolved at the end. The effect is like being cheated.
There are weaknesses that are all too obtrusive. Dr. Geller’s hypnotic skills working on Robin are almost cartoonish. Lack of character development is the book’s Achilles Heel. The element of romance in the story is little more than dead and we look at a passive, talking-only hero. The situations are not effectively experienced from any single character’s eyes and a feeling of detachment from the whole tale prevails through most of the book’s’ length. Perhaps it is what comes off when you try to gather thirty-two years of mystery in two weeks of the narration’s span.
In spite of all the weaknesses, Heaven’s Witness has some convincingly appreciable qualities. Deviant psychiatrist Geoffrey Bolton’s belief things just don’t happen, there’s a reason is a conviction that strengthens Dr. Geller’s case of pursuing his view of reality with genuine force. The need to deviate from the stereotyped and clichéd has found firm footing in the story’s framework. Still more significant is the psychological peep into the depths of some common diseased products of life: the panic-stricken writer whose real disease is the degradation of audience’s taste of comedy, the porn-obsessed young man whose root problem is low self-esteem on account of his homely figure, and the mother-hating young woman who is the victim of her domineering mother’s hard-shelled feminism.
Heaven’s Witness is a nice read but not hypnotically riveting.