Sara Ker­st­ing, Acre Books (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $19 (192pp), 978-1-946724-10-6

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight | Debut Fiction - JOHN M. MUR­RAY

Sara Ker­st­ing’s Duty to Warn is a finely tuned, sus­pense­ful chase story.

Psy­chol­o­gist David Malden has been work­ing with a pa­tient, Robert Percy, dur­ing his off hours. When Percy sud­denly returns to ru­ral Michi­gan, Malden fears the worst. He be­comes con­vinced that Percy, a trou­bled fac­tory worker, is seek­ing re­venge for his past in the fos­ter care sys­tem. Malden en­lists the help of a col­league, Sonja Nielsen, and uses an in­com­plete list from his treat­ment notes to stop Percy. In at­tempt­ing to help Percy, the two psy­chol­o­gists grap­ple with their own trou­bled pasts: Malden has a men­tally ill daugh­ter and a fail­ing mar­riage; Nielsen is haunted by her brother’s sui­cide.

The novel deftly weaves be­tween its three leads’ per­spec­tives. These shifts be­tween peo­ple and through time are jar­ring in a way that mim­ics Percy’s rec­ol­lec­tions. Each char­ac­ter’s sec­tion shines and is full of per­son­al­ity. Malden main­tains pro­fes­sional and clin­i­cal de­tach­ment; Nielsen has a cold ex­te­rior but an eager de­sire to help; Percy’s frac­tured thoughts have a child­like in­no­cence.

The au­thor draws upon her ca­reer in the men­tal health field to great ef­fect. Pro­fes­sional jar­gon is es­chewed for a taut nar­ra­tive that of­fers up am­ple in­for­ma­tion without ham­per­ing the tense plot’s mo­men­tum, in which it’s never quite clear what Percy in­tends to ac­com­plish by go­ing home.

Sec­ondary sub­plots show Malden and Nielsen as dy­namic and painfully real peo­ple. They strug­gle with their own pasts, high­light­ing a re­cur­ring theme of “rec­on­cil­ing our ac­tions with who we want to be … or who we are try­ing to be.” The two psy­chol­o­gists are not per­fect; while they want to help oth­ers, they must first help them­selves. Duty to Warn is cap­ti­vat­ing.

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