By Brianna Labuskes
Psychopaths appear in mysteries as remorseless, violent, random killers who are challenging to catch because of their lack of connection to their victims.
Author Brianna Labuskes has several sociopaths in her novel, A FAMILIAR SIGHT, but she turns common ideas about sociopaths and killers upside down.
The sociopaths in this story aren’t killers — at least not yet — and the killer isn’t a sociopath.
In this crafty and twisting mystery, the key investigator, Dr. Gretchen White, is a sociopath. Boston Police Detective Patrick Shaughnessy has known her since he found her as a child at the side of her murdered aunt’s body. He has made sure to stay in touch as she has grown up.
“Because you think I’m a killer you just can’t seem to catch,” Gretchen tells him.
Shaughnessy doesn’t believe Gretchen when she tells him that not all sociopaths are violent, and she is one of the nonviolent ones. Additionally, her professional training as a psychologist and her own many years in therapy have given her self-knowledge, self-control and coping skills that most sociopaths don’t have.
In the middle of the night, one of Gretchen’s few friends, attorney Lena Booker, leaves her a slurry message. Lena, atypically, had agreed to defend Viola Kent, a 13-year-old girl, who six months earlier appeared to have stabbed her sleeping mother, Claire Kent, to death.
“I messed up, Gretch. . . . She’s like you. . . You have to . . . you have to fix it for me, okay? Viola Kent. Gretchen . . . Viola Kent is innocent.”
Lena’s usual clients were mobsters who paid well and supported Lena’s lifestyle, or impoverished youth from South Boston, where Lena grew up. Without Lena’s help, their only other hope is overworked public defenders.
When Gretchen arrives at Lena’s home, she finds her dead. An overdose, pills, wine, suicide? It’s not clear. She calls 911. Shaughnessy arrives soon after; he’s investigating the Claire Kent murder. Gretchen persuades him to bring her on as a consultant.
The psychiatrists evaluating Viola Kent diagnose her as a psychopath. Whether she killed her mother is another issue, but it’s clear to anyone who has contact with her that it’s only a matter of time before her tendency to violence becomes fatal.
The Kent family is a stewing kettle of dysfunction and extreme emotion. Viola’s father, Reed, admits that Viola had violent tendencies and was seeing a psychiatrist. Her two brothers’ medical records tell a story of physical abuse. As the novel proceeds, it’s clear that Viola wasn’t the only psychopath in the family. Her mother Claire inflicted her own forms of indifference and cruelty to her sons and her husband. She was having an affair and rarely passed up a chance to humiliate her husband for his lack of money.
This is a mystery that explodes with one surprise after another. A reader is forced to reconsider his or her expectations about families, psychopaths and murderers over and over again.
This is an engaging mystery that left me waiting eagerly for its sequel.
About the Author: Brianna Labuskes
For the past eight years, Brianna Labuskes has been an editor at small town papers and national media organizations such as Politico and Kaiser Heath News, covering politics and policy.
She is the author os psychological suspense novels such as HER FINAL WORDS, BLACK ROCK BAY, GIRLS OF GLASS and IT ENDS WITH HER.
A native of Harrisburg, PA, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State University. She lives in Washington, DC.