Thu
Jul 20 2017 12:00pm

Review: Incarnate by Josh Stolberg

In Incarnate by Josh Stolberg, an ambitious and sharp-witted clinical psychiatrist turns detective when one of her patients comes under investigation for a series of brutal murders—is she a psychopath or a victim herself? (Available July 25, 2017.)

Psychiatric resident Kim Patterson is really good at what she does, but that didn’t keep her from getting fired from her job in San Diego. Thankfully, she was given a second chance at Jarvis Regional Hospital in the tiny town of Jarvis, Alaska. She’s chafing under the scrutiny of her supervisors—one of which, Dr. Kyle Berman, she’s having an affair with—and things don’t get any easier when 19-year-old Scarlett Hascall comes in with her boss from the fast food place she works at. She supposedly flung a fryer at his face but has no memory of actually doing the deed. When Kim starts asking questions, Scarlett acts strangely, setting off alarms for Kim.

“Something I’m a little confused about,” Kim said cautiously, scooting her own chair close so that she was knee to knee with Scarlett. “You don’t seem too surprised by Darren’s accusations. Most people, they get accused of something like that, they’re likely to fly off the handle. Or at least make it clear that they weren’t involved.”

Scarlett shrugged and averted her eyes. “I mean, I don’t remember doing anything. I don’t think I would do anything like that. But I guess if he said I did it … maybe I did.”

“Don’t mind me,” Kim said, shining a light in Scarlett’s eyes to check her pupils. “So you really don’t remember anything?”

Scarlett blinked, ducking her chin nervously. “It happens. She … loses time.”

She? Kim glanced at Kyle. He cleared his throat. “I’ve read her chart. She’s had some similar episodes in the past. Scarlett, I think we might need to adjust your medications.”

He started flipping through the pages of the chart he’d been carrying.

“It’s okay,” Kim murmured gently as she checked the other eye. “Just keep looking at me.” She wished Kyle would leave them alone for a few minutes so she could establish a rapport with the girl.

Scarlett nodded unconvincingly. When Kim put down the light, the girl rubbed her eyes and looked around the room. Her gaze fell on the mirror above the small scrub sink. As Kim watched, her expression seemed to waver and shift, almost as though she was startled by her own appearance. She frowned and narrowed her eyes, staring intently. After a long moment, she turned back to Kim. “Did I really mess him up like that?” she asked.

Kim finds out that Scarlett has been in and out of treatment since she was a little girl. As Kim listens to her history, she suspects something unusual is going on: Kim may be suffering from dissociative identity disorder, or DID. Kyle is skeptical but agrees to give Kim a chance to treat her, provided that she doesn’t break any rules.

Meanwhile, Detective Zack Trainor is frustrated at the lack of leads in the missing persons case of Isabel Wilcox. Isabel was no angel and was into a lot of questionable activities, but she was close to her family, and not getting in touch with them was unusual.

The thing is: Jarvis has a history of people going missing. In fact, the number of people that have gone missing in recent years far exceeds the national average. But it’s a small town and a small police force, and Zack believes they’re doing the best they can. Luckily, his adoptive father is the police chief, and they make a good team. Zack is determined to find out what happened to Isabel.

Shockingly, during one of Kim’s sessions with Scarlett, she claims to be Isabel Wilcox. Kim assumes that one of Scarlett’s alters has taken on the name of the missing girl, but as events progress, the names of Scarlett’s other alters seem to match up with names of other missing folks. Kim is stumped, but after using hypnosis on the girl, she soon begins to suspect something very strange is going on. In fact, she starts to believe that Scarlett may actually be channeling dead people. But how does she prove it to the people that matter?

I love Kim. She’s one of the most fun characters I’ve read in a long time. She’s brilliant, funny, snarky, and doesn’t take crap from anyone. The only problem with that is she tends to rub people the wrong way, and in her precarious position, pushing boundaries isn’t exactly in her best interest. She’s also devoted to helping her patients and tends to put herself in harm’s way to do so.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this one, but debut author Josh Stolberg is a screenwriter, and you can tell. That’s not a bad thing. This book is very cinematic, and although the mystery of the missing people is a good one, it’s Kim that serves as its anchor. And she’s a helluva anchor.

Jarvis is a unique setting too, and it doesn’t help the poor cops that it’s a hotbed of drugs and the sex trade, including child pornography. Zack has to deal with some pretty slimy characters during the course of his investigation. Of course, there’s a twist, and I honestly didn’t guess whodunnit beforehand, which is always nice for this jaded reader.

That Stolberg is a horror screenwriter is obvious—the violence doesn’t overpopulate the pages, but when it appears, its gory details can get a bit gross. So be forewarned.

Readers will be eager to find out the truth behind the disappearances and also about Kim’s mysterious past—she’s hiding a few secrets of her own, and they have quite a bearing on her work with Scarlett. This one’s a lot of fun and moves at lightning speed. I’d love to read more books in this setting and with these characters. I’ll follow Kim anywhere.

 

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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at mybookishways.com, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.

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