“One of my patients thinks somebody’s trying to kill him,” Aileen Macklin says to her husband over breakfast. A psychiatrist with a fading marriage, Aileen is haunted by the glue-sniffing lad who comes to her in a panic, begging to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for protection. Gary Dunn clearly needs help: ravaged by his squalid existence, he is paralyzed with fear about a murder he has witnessed and convinced he may be next. Unfortunately for Gary, he may just be right. And unfortunately for Aileen, she becomes far more involved in his case than professional ethics would recommend.
Aileen Macklin, at 35, is trapped in a joyless marriage, and her job as a psychiatrist in an underfunded social program in Thatcher's England offers few rewards; she is ``absolutely certain that she is a person to whom nothing more would ever happen.'' That's as tantalizing a premonition of disaster as the author of a psychological suspense novel can offer, and Dibdin quickly makes good with a tightly coiled, coolly analytical depiction of two crumbling psyches. Into Aileen's life comes a tormented teenaged patient who reminds her of a lost love and carries a troubling burden of guilt. Once a squatter, he now seeks institutionalization and resists Aileen's every effort to uncover the facts causing his terror. This dense, compact mood piece includes stories within stories within flashbacks, preventing its structure from becoming clear until the closing moments. While an ambiguous ending may irritate some readers, the sense of creeping dread that pervades the narrative is sustained superbly throughout, distinguishing this work as both a haunting thriller and as a series of harshly lit snapshots of London's dispossessed. (Jan.)