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The Patient


The Patient

I have said this many times before, but it bears repeating. One of the joys of reading is finding an author, whether he or she is new to you or to the public at large, who is worth recommending. Place Jasper DeWitt in that category. His debut novel is a fairly quick read that simmers at first and boils later, leaving readers looking over their shoulder long after the last page has been turned.

THE PATIENT is told through the voice of Parker H., a pseudonym for a medical school graduate seeking to specialize in psychiatry, and is presented as a series of installments on a web forum called under the thread “Why I Almost Quit Medicine.” Parker uses a professional contact to pull some strings to obtain employment in a state mental institution somewhere in New England. All of the names in the posts are changed to protect the innocent and guilty, but his primary concern is a patient named Joseph M—. Parker comes to learn that Joseph was hospitalized at the asylum since he was a child and has been there for nearly three decades, receiving little or no treatment throughout that period. Interestingly enough, his parents have never visited him.

"...a fairly quick read that simmers at first and boils later, leaving readers looking over their shoulder long after the last page has been turned."

Parker is appalled by the situation, and in short order makes treating and possibly curing Joseph his goal. There are problems, to be sure. The doctors who run the asylum seem to want to get in Parker’s way as they attempt to maintain the status quo, and the records of Joseph’s stay are hard to come by. When Parker finally does obtain those files, the diagnoses specified are inconsistent with each other. Then we have Joseph himself, who appears to be a bit off-kilter, as one might expect from someone who has been in a mental treatment facility for decades.

However, Parker gradually gets the sense that there is something undefinably wrong with Joseph. He makes an important step --- one that is perhaps a bit unorthodox but is almost intuitive --- and arrives at the truth of what has occurred. That isn’t the end of the story, though. It’s only the beginning, and that’s when things get truly frightening.

I thought I knew where DeWitt was going with the story, and was sure of it when Parker broached a particular subject in the final third of the book. It was a head fake, though, and a masterful one. Just when you think that it is swerving into familiar (though no less terrifying) territory, the author grabs the wheel, taking the narrative and the reader off-road without four-wheel drive and into terrain that won’t soon be forgotten. This novel will be of interest to many who don’t ordinarily venture into the horror genre while also attracting those Lovecraft aficionados who are looking for something that might nudge past the Cthulhu mythos without bumping into it.

Everyone who reads THE PATIENT will be up all night and haunted all day. I cannot wait for DeWitt’s next book.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 10, 2020

The Patient
by Jasper DeWitt