Dead Time is the latest in Steven White’s gripping series about psychologist Alan Gregory. Although it could be read as a stand-alone, I recommend reading some of the earlier books in the series first to fully appreciate the dynamics – which are deep, detailed and divisive – between the members of Alan’s family and their friends and colleagues.
Dead Time is the best kind of thriller – on one level it is an exciting detective story about the disappearance some years previously of a young woman on a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon. What happened to her, and were any of her fellow-travellers involved? And how is Alan Gregory going to feature in this case?
On another level, the novel’s events are filtered through the analytical eyes of Alan. No interaction between characters can take place without him internalising what is “really” going on. This approach provides a fascinating glimpse of the many ways in which people’s unconscious motivations control their words and deeds, as well as slowing down the action while interestingly building up suspense.
As the novel opens, Alan and his wife Lauren are reeling from previous events – Lauren is planning a trip to Holland to see if she can track down the daughter whose existence was revealed in Dry Ice, whereas Alan himself is trying to come to terms both with these revelations and with his and Lauren’s sudden new adoptive son, Jonas, and their police detective friend Sam is suspended from duty and has apparently withdrawn from human contact.
While Lauren is in Europe, Alan and Jonas travel to New York: Jonas is staying with his extended relations while Alan has too much time on his hands to try to come to terms with Lauren’s betrayal. He’s kick-started out of his drifting state by his ex-wife Meredith, who wants Alan to find a young woman, Lisa, who is doing Meredith a very special favour but who has inexplicably vanished. The reader knows before Alan does that Lisa is one of the Grand Canyon party, as is Eric, Meredith’s fiancé and about-to-be second husband. Particularly successful is the author’s technique of alternating chapters between Alan and Meredith’s perspectives – reading about the same interactions between them from each other’s point of view.
Alan and Sam find themselves digging into the Grand Canyon mystery – Sam by a direct reworking of the investigation into the young woman’s disappearance, and Alan by meeting the witnesses involved, which means both men have to spend time in LA and the surrounding countryside and culture, not to mention temptations.
Stephen White is a master at integrating the psychological landscape with his plots. This novel is all about the relationship between parents and children – biological, adoptive, estranged, and more. At the end of the book, many threads are tied together in unpredictable, insightful and exciting ways. As usual, I shall look forward to the next in the series.