6.15.2013

What Comes Next, by John Katzenbach

What Comes Next
I suspect that part of what makes John Katzenbach's What Comes Next so plausibly frightening is the fact that the criminals are so chillingly sociopathic. They plan everything, so catching them is going to be a miracle. (They seem more terrifying for me having just read Jon Ronson's review of Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas in the New York Times.) Sociopaths' brains are different from neuronormal brains. They feel no empathy. And because they don't feel empathy for others, they don't feel bound by the same rules and considerations that the rest of us are. They don't instinctively feel that kidnapping, torture, or murder are bad things. If they worry at all, they worry about getting caught because it would curb their freedom. In What Comes Next, the crime is engineered by two people, a man and a women. They're like a more technologically advanced version of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the perpetrators of the Moors Murders.

Our primary narrator, Dr. Adrian Thomas, has just found out that he's suffering from dementia with Lewy bodies--a rapidly progressive version of dementia that leaves the psychology professor with only a few years to live. As he drives home from a last hike, he spots something strange. A girl--who we soon learn is Jennifer Riggins--is snatched from a residential street by a man and a woman. Because Jennifer has tried to run away twice before and this is her third attempt, the police are a little reluctant to jump into the case. Only when Thomas comes forward with his story does the detective on the case, Terri Collins, start to treat it as a kidnapping.

Katzenbach also shows us the kidnappers' perspectives. This is no ordinary kidnapping. The kidnappers run a site called Whatcomesnext.com. Subscribers pay to watch the couple torture and abuse women, then kill them. Its hard to say who is worse, the kidnappers or the subscribers. They're all sick and criminal. I could feel my lip curling in disgust as I read those sections.

Because the kidnappers planned so thoroughly and destroyed any evidence connecting them to Jennifer, it seems almost impossible for the police and Thomas to find her. The police have nothing to go on. But Thomas won't let it go. He lets his psychologist's instincts point him to the darkest parts of the Internet (using the assistance of a pedophile) to try and track her down. The clock is ticking and Katzenbach never lets the book drag. It's an incredibly tense read.

I've only read one other book by Katzenbach, State of Mind, and this book shares the same startling originality. Even though they're classified as mysteries and thrillers, Katzenbach's books don't follow the same paths. It's hard to predict how things were going to shake out. I wasn't sure what was going to happen to Jennifer because, honestly, it could have gone either way. Both books explored the pathology of sociopaths and just how far beyond the bounds of society they really are. It makes the books terrifyingly unpredictable if you're used to criminals who do things for the usual reason.

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