Monday, April 29, 2013

Book Review: psych - A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read by William Rabkin (psych #1)

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Plenty of humor and a good story
Cons: A couple short scenes; no pineapple; constant "flashbacks"
The Bottom Line:
A fan of the show
Then I see you enjoying
Bonus adventure

I Was a Psychic Slave to This Book

The USA Network seems to want to make every penny they can from their hit shows, which is why they have turned to tie in novels, first with Monk and then Burn Notice.  Now comes A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read, the first novel based on psych.  I'm delighted to say that it is as delightfully entertaining as the series.

In case you aren't familiar with the show, psych chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Shawn Spencer.  Shawn was raised by his father Henry to be hyper observant for a future career as a police detective, a career path Shawn rejected.  But Shawn has found a way to use those skills as a police consultant.  He gathers these clues and then gives them to the police in the form of fake psychic visions.  While Police Chief Karen Vick and Detective Juliet O'Hara seem to believe him, Detective Carlton Lassiter is constantly waiting for Shawn to fail.  Aiding and abetting Shawn on these cases is his best friends from childhood, Gus.

After one parking ticket too many, Gus' car is towed, leaving Shawn and Gus without wheels.  When they go to the impound lot to try to retrieve it, they are met with an angry attendant with a gun.  Gus flees the scene and has a run in with a car, leaving him in a coma.  When he wakes up 24 hours later, Shawn is being kept company by Tara, a beautiful woman who claims to be a slave to Shawn's every psychic command.

Trying again to retrieve Gus' car, the duo, now a trio, find the attendant murdered.  Shawn thinks that it is the sign of a huge government conspiracy (well, as huge as you can get when only the city of Santa Barbara is involved), but Gus thinks they should look a little closer to home.  Tara is creeping him out.  And when more strange things start to happen, Gus thinks Tara needs to go.  The only problem is, she won't leave.  How can Gus and Shawn get her to leave?  Is she responsible for the things that keep happening to their enemies?

Now you don't have to have seen the series to understand the book, but I do think it would help.  See the series can get rather crazy at times between's Shawn's antics and the witty word play between characters.  All of that is preserved perfectly here.  In fact, there were a couple of times I might have said the author went too far if I weren't watching new episodes of the show while reading the book.  Trust me on this; you won't want to read the book in public.  I could not stop myself from laughing out loud multiple times as events unfolded.

The plot started out a little slowly but it really gained momentum in the second half.  However, that is in keeping with the show where the plots are often weak in favor of the comedy.  And the book entertained me from start to finish.  I was never quite ready to put the book down even when I needed to move on to another task.

The series regulars are expertly captured.  I could hear the actors speaking the lines their characters said in the book.  I have seen some complaints that O'Hara is much gruffer to Shawn in this book then she is on the TV show.  While I would agree with that assessment, I think it comes out of the way she is treated here.  It worked for me.  The new characters are developed enough to serve their purpose.  Tara especially is perfect because it is hard to get a read on her.  But really, this is Shawn and Gus' book.  They are the characters with the majority of the page time, even over the other regulars.

There were a couple short sexually suggestive scenes that go a little further then they can get away with on TV.  There's nothing explicit, but they still bothered me.  I only bring this up since fans of the show might want to know it isn't quite on the same level as the show.

The book is written third person, almost completely from Gus' point of view.  We do break occasionally for Shawn-vision, the device used in the TV show to allow us to see the small details that Shawn turns into his visions.  Yet these switches never distract, and point of view switches are a big pet peeve of mine.  The entire book comes off as the work of a polished professional.  My only real complaint here is that the author continually starts a chapter with Shawn and Gus doing something, then flashes back to get them from the end of the last chapter to that point.  It's never confusing, but it's a narrative devise that I grow tired of in a big hurry.

Fans of the show also know there is a pineapple hidden in every episode.  That's the one convention from the show that didn't make it into the book.  But it's a minor "flaw."

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Read has all the trademarks that make psych so much fun, good mystery and hilarious comedy.  Fans of the TV show will be glad they gave it a chance.

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