This psychological thriller, the first book of this Argentinian writer to be translated into English, begins with an attention-grabbing opening: “Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang. Insistently” (3). The rest of the book is a roller-coaster ride.
Justin Lynch, the man at the door, convinces Ted to kill a man who escaped punishment for murder and Wendell, a man who also wants to die. In return, Ted will then be killed. Having an inoperable brain tumor and believing it would be easier for his family to cope with his murder than his suicide, Ted agrees. Then things become really weird: the intended victims are not exactly as Justin described and Ted starts having bizarre dreams and feels he is being watched. He goes to see Dr. Laura Hill, his therapist. Through his conversations with her, we are given some insight into his family life and his past. To avoid spoilers, I can say no more except that nothing is as it seems.
There are many puzzling questions for which the reader craves answers: Is Ted a good guy or a deranged killer? Is his brain tumor causing hallucinations? How did Justin come to know about Ted’s plans to commit suicide? Is Laura a trustworthy, caring professional or an ambitious manipulator?
At times the plot is very confusing. It is like Ted’s mind which is full of elusive memories, “just bits and pieces, all jumbled together.” As Ted tries to put together those pieces into a sensible whole, the reader must try to do the same to the plot. Readers who do not like plots which are difficult to understand should probably stay away from this book. I must admit that after the first 100 pages, I was ready to give up, but then I got to Part III and I became fully engaged.
There are numerous twists and turns in this very fast-paced narrative. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but I found the book so interesting that it was easy to suspend disbelief. I just got sucked into the multiple layers and possible alternate realities. The epilogue left me puzzled in a way that inspires me to re-read this book at a later date.
The game of chess is significant for Ted and is mentioned several times. I had heard of the paranoia of Bobby Fischer and the strange behaviour of other grand masters of the game, so I was interested in a theory suggested by Laura: “’Chess is a little paranoia-provoking in itself. You constantly have to be anticipating threats that might never materialize, and the possible variations are virtually infinite. Brilliant chess minds analyze those variations, the possible moves, one after another, each one leading to limitless ramifications. Apply that same structure off the chessboard and the result is catastrophic’” (187).
It’s difficult to say too much about the book for fear of ruining it for other readers. If you like a devilishly twisted and convoluted plot, this novel is for you. If you like books with psychological layers, this novel is for you. It is certainly a book I enjoyed as a totally immersing escapist read.