Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT THE UNRAVELING OF BRENDAN MEEKS by Brian Cohn (@briancohnMD) A good psychological portrayal of a young man suffering from schizophrenia and a mystery that is not all in his mind. #Bookreview

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book that is released TODAY and I had a chance to read before its publication thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team. I had read another book by the author recently and was very curious….

The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn
The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn

The Unraveling of Brendan Meeks by Brian Cohn

THE UNRAVELING OF BRENDAN MEEKS is a first-person glimpse into the mind of a young man with schizophrenia as he deals with tragic loss. The result is a unique and unforgettable mystery clouded with hallucinations and fraught by paranoia.

Meeks is a young man born with a silver spoon jammed down his throat, a fact his domineering mother has never let him forget. Although he has nearly everything he could ever want—friends, money, a good education—Brendan’s life falls apart during graduate school when he begins to show signs of schizophrenia. Forced to drop out of school, he watches most of his friends disappear and his parents distance themselves further and further.

The only constant left in Brendan’s life is his loving sister, Wendy. When she turns up dead, he must ignore the insults and threats from the voices in his head to begin his own investigation. With the help of an odd assemblage of his few friends—a drug dealer, a meth addict, and a war veteran with a bad case of agoraphobia—he begins to uncover a conspiracy that may, or may not, be a byproduct of his own delusional mind.

Mystery, crime, murder, suspense, detective, schizophrenia, mental health, mental illness, substance abuse, drug abuse, heroin abuse, overdose, depression, suicide.

Author Brian Cohn

About the author:

Brian is an ER doctor practicing in St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives with his beautiful wife and their two rambunctious children. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama where he grew up loving to read. His passion for books continued through his college career at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and traveled with him back to Alabama where he attended the University of Alabama School of Medicine. He moved to St. Louis for residency training, met his wife, and fell in love with both her and the city itself. He has been practicing emergency medicine for over a decade and loves helping people every day, but turned to writing as a creative outlet.

A self-professed nerd, Brian has long enjoyed everything science fiction, from books to TV and movies. He is also a huge fan of great mysteries and thrillers, and is a sucker for a surprising plot twist. He writes the kind of books that he would want to read, reflecting a deep-seated curiosity about what motivates people to do the things they do.

When he’s not busy writing and taking care of patients, Brian loves to run, play with his children, and spend quiet time watching TV with his wife. If he can only figure out how to do all three things at once, he’ll finally have it made.

My review:

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. If you are an author and are looking for reviews, I recommend you check here, as she manages a great group of reviewers and if they like your book, you’ve made it!

Having read and enjoyed Brian Cohn’s previous novel The Last Detective  (you can check my review here), I was very intrigued by his new novel. Although it also promised a mystery/thriller of sorts, this one was set firmly in the present, well, as firmly as anything can be when told by a character suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who rarely takes his medication. As I am a psychiatrist, and I read many thrillers, the book had a double interest for me.

As the description says, the story is narrated, in the first person, by the main character, the Brendan Meeks of the title. Although he is from a good family and had an affluent (if not the happiest) childhood, his mental illness disrupted his education (he was studying a Masters in Computer Sciences at the time), and his life. He now lives in a rundown apartment in St. Louis, surrounded by other marginal characters (a war veteran suffering from PTSD who never leaves the house, a drug-addict girl whose dealer has become something more personal, an understanding Bosnian landlord…). His main support is his sister Wendy. When she dies, he decides to investigate her death, and things get even more complicated, as his brain starts making connections and seeing coincidences that might or might not be really there.

Brendan is the perfect example of an unreliable narrator. His mental illness makes him misinterpret things, give ominous meanings to random events, and believe that everything that happens relates to him and “the code”. Brendan hears voices, abusive voices, mostly in the second person, that give him orders, insult him, tell him to harm himself and others… He has a complex system of paranoid delusions, all related to a “code” he believes was implanted in his brain, and he is convinced that there is a conspiracy of various agencies (mostly men dressed in dark suits driving black SUVs) that will stop at nothing to try and recover that information. Thanks to his parents’ money (as this is the USA, his access to care would be limited otherwise) he sees a psychiatrist once a week, but he rarely takes medication, as he is convinced that if he does, he won’t be able to escape these agents that are after him. Yes, the medication helps with the voices, but it does not seem to touch his delusions (if it is all a delusion). There are several points in the novel when Brendan ends up in hospital and is given medication, and then he seems to hold it together for a while, enough to go after some clues and make some enquiries, but the longer he goes without medication, the more we doubt anything we read and wonder if any of the connections his brain makes are real or just a part of his illness.

I thought the depiction of Brendan’s mental illness and symptoms was very well done. It brought to my mind conversations with many of my patients, including his use of loud music or the radio to drown the voices, his feelings about the medication, his self-doubt, the attitude of others towards him (most of the characters are very understanding and friendly towards Brendan, although he faces doubt and disbelief a few times, not surprisingly, especially in his dealings with the police and the authorities), and his thought processes. He is a likeable and relatable character, faced with an incredibly difficult situation, but determined to keep going no matter what. His sister’s death motivates him to focus and concentrate on something other than himself and his own worries, and that, ultimately, is what helps him move on and accept the possibility of a more positive future. He also shows at times, flashes of the humour that was in evidence in the author’s previous novel, although here less dark and less often (as it again fluctuates according to the character’s experiences).

The narration is fluid and fast, the pace changing in keeping with the point of view and the mental state of the protagonist. There are clues to the later discoveries from early on (and I did guess a few of the plot points) although the narrator’s mental state creates a good deal of confusion and doubt. The rest of the characters are less well-drawn than Brendan, although that also fits in with the narration style (we only learn as much as he tell us or thinks about them at the time, including his doubts and suspicions when he is not well), and the same goes for his altered perceptions of places and events (sometimes offering plenty of detail about unimportant things, and others paying hardly any attention at all).

Where the book did not work that well for me was when it came to the mystery/thriller part of it. There are inconsistencies and plot holes that I don’t think can be put down to the mental state or the altered perception of the character. There is an important plot point that did not fit in for me and tested my suspension of disbelief (in fact made me wonder if the level of unreliability extended beyond what the novel seemed to suggest up to that point and I became even more suspicious of everything), and I suspect readers who love police procedural stories will also wonder about a few of the things that happen and how they all fit together, but, otherwise, there are plenty of twists, and as I said, the build-up of the character and the depiction of his world and perspective is well achieved. Although the subject matter includes drugs, overdoses, corruption, child neglect, difficult family situations, abuse, adultery, and murder, there is no excessive or graphic use of violence or gore, and everything is filtered through Brendan’s point of view, and he is (despite whatever the voices might say) kind and warm-hearted.

I recommend it to readers interested in unreliable narrators, who love mysteries (but perhaps not sticklers for details or looking for realistic and detailed investigations), and are keen on sympathetic psychological portrayals of the everyday life of a young man suffering from schizophrenia.

Thanks to Rosie and to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

21 replies on “#TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT THE UNRAVELING OF BRENDAN MEEKS by Brian Cohn (@briancohnMD) A good psychological portrayal of a young man suffering from schizophrenia and a mystery that is not all in his mind. #Bookreview”

In spite of your caveats – and I suspect the plot holes would irritate me too – I’ll be buying this book. I am fascinated by the dynamics of such a situation. “Schizophrenic tendencies’ was tacked on to my mother’s bi-polar diagnosis and to this day there are some events I’m really not sure actually happened!

Thanks, Sarah. It is a difficult situation, indeed. I’ve seen some patients whose most outrageous stories happened to be true, while sometimes some that sounded plausible were not. In some cases, it was impossible to tell. The book had already undergone some revisions by the time I read it, so it might be that the thing that bothered me in the plot is not quite that evident, but see what you think… I mentioned it to the author, so there might be changes to the final version. Brian Cohn can write, for sure. Enjoy!

Ah, music to drown out my voices, great idea. Oh, but wait, the voices are from the conference call I’m supposed to be listening to! Oops!
Seriously though, it’s a great review, Olga. I always enjoy reading your insights. Good luck to Brian.
I hope you are enjoying Wales. Hugs!

Thanks, Teagan. Perhaps it will make no difference if you listen or not… I’m sure you could make up a more interesting content than whatever they’re discussing. I’m still trying to catch up after last week (quite busy). So far the weather has been rainy, a bit of sun, and some more rain, but the dogs are keeping me entertained (and vice versa, I think).

And so, you’ve sent me off to Amazon again. I can’t afford to come here and don’t know how I will ever get through my reading list, lol. 🙂 Sounds riveting! 🙂

Debby, I’ve just realised I’ve acquired two more books that were on the longlist for the ManBooker. I wonder when I’ll manage to read them as I have two or three other books due for reviews (well, in the short term. I think I have hundreds I should read at some point). Just remember I also have books in Spanish to read and you’ll see it’s no laughing matter for me either. Mind you, perhaps you’d want to join Rosie’s Book Review Team, as I get some fabulous reads through her site and I’ve met great authors and reviewers there. I know that would make the problem worse! Oh, there’s no hope! Have a great Wednesday!

Thanks Olga. I couldn’t possibly join a book review team, I couldn’t commit. I honestly don’t know how you do it. My days and nights are full and my reading time so narrow. If I wasn’t writing full time and just devouring books like I did most of my life before writing books, that would have been perfect for me. You are a reading machine! 🙂 Enjoy your evening!

Thanks, Debby. I don’t have a lot of time and I only pick up books when I know I’ll be able to finish them in time for the review (we have a month and some of the books are quite short). All the best.

Oh, that’s interesting Olga. I thought you had to read ‘x’ amount of books in ‘x’ amount of time. It does seem like you can get through at least 2 books a week though, 🙂

Thanks, Debby. Different groups have different rules. In Rosie’s group, you choose the book you like the sound of and you have a month to finish it and review. You share the review on your blog and send her a copy and she posts it on her blog too (so the review gets a fair amount of sharing). If you haven’t reviewed anything for a long time she will probably contact you and ask if you’re still interested but some people are more active than others. In my case, it depends on the books and what else I am doing. If I am travelling or going for a long drive, that gives me some extra time to read. Some books are just easier to read than others and some are very short. I just read a short story that was very short indeed.
Of course, I also have authors that contact me directly (although at the moment, unless it is somebody I’ve already read and I’m interested in, I’m not taking any new books), and a lot of my reviews are for books I acquire through NetGalley. The problem is that, as you well know, there are so many interesting books that it’s impossible to keep up!
Have a great Thursday!

Thanks for explaining Olga. Roisie’s seems a fair amount of time. But I guess I was thinking about NetGalley because I thought there would be the short time constraints for reviewing. 🙂

Well, unfortunately, I have many books from NetGalley I haven’t managed to review before their release or even around the time. Of course, they say you are more likely to get the books you want if you review timely, but sometimes it is impossible, and the worst that can happen is that next time the publishers don’t approve your request and don’t give you the book. After all, you’re not getting paid for it and you don’t have a contract, and these days with the restrictions on Amazon and other places for reviews, (they cannot offer you the books ‘in exchange’ for a review as that is considered an incentive. You have to freely decide to review them even if they give them to you) they cannot demand a review. Most of them now say ‘if you decide to review it…’. What they don’t want is reviews with spoilers that go out very early in advance, but sometimes I’ve got copies of books several months in advance of publication.
These days, I often get e-mails from publicists and some of the publishing companies whose books I’ve reviewed offering me their books directly (through Net Galley, but you’re ‘invited’ to check the book).
I don’t have a particularly addictive personality, but I’m addicted to books!

Lol Olga. But thanks for clarifying how the process works. Perhaps I’ll consider it next year. My plate is full for the next few months, and I currently have a TBR full on my KIndle. Not that I’ll read them all but I have a fair amount of books I’m looking forward to reading on that list for now. 🙂

I can imagine. At least now we don’t need to worry about ‘running out of books’ that was a source of anxiety, at least for me, when I was younger. 😉 Enjoy a fabulous Friday!

Thanks, Robbie. In this case, it was through Rosie Amber’s group (Rosie’s Books Review Team). The more you publish reviews, the more people ask you to review their books, although it is impossible to accommodate everybody’s request, as much as we’d like to. NetGalley is another great place. And loved your reply to the post about indie authors!

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