I wrote a post a few weeks back about discovering the Grammar Girl podcast. The woman behind Grammar Girl has started another podcast, called “Behind the Grammar,” in which she interviews authors and writes about literature. Through this podcast, I learned about author J.C. Hutchins, and his latest novel Personal Effects: Dark Art.
I read many genres of literature, but I really enjoy a good thriller. I decided to buy his novel based soley on his interview on the “Behind the Grammar” podcast. I was mainly intrigued by the unique method of storytelling Hutchins and his collaborator Jordan Weisman used to unspool a rich tapestry of terror, revenge, and mystery. You see, Personal Effects: Dark Art is not just a book, it’s an experience.
Each reader will find, enclosed in a pocket attached to the inside front cover, a pile of paper and plastic. A driver’s license and bank card for one Martin Grace, who is apparently a character in the book. Copies of birth and death certificates. A strange, incredibly colored drawing. A letter from the…CIA? What the…?
These “personal effects” are an integral part of the story. While the novel itself is very entertaining, the other aspects (in addition to the personal effects, the reader finds websites to visit, numbers to call, passwords to suss out) immerse the reader in an alternate world, in which the reader has access to more information than do the characters in the story.
The plot centers around Zach Taylor, an art therapist who works at a psychiatric hospital lovingly referred to as “The Brink.” He uses art to help his patients work through their myriad of psychiatric issues, many of which are interesting enough to merit their own book. When he attempts to treat the aforementioned Grace, a psychosomatically blind man who is accused of murdering a dozen people in amazingly gruesome fashion, his ability is severely tested and his own dark past intertwines with his patient’s.