The Madman’s Tale, published by John Katzenbach in 2004, is a very well written mystery/suspense story told mostly from the point a view of a certified schizophrenic. The challenge here is to see things as the schizophrenic does, which is a little like trying to write from the point of view of a psychopath or homicidal maniac, made slightly easier by the possibility of talking to an actual schizophrenic without requiring armed guards.
In this story Francis Petrel, a young man who hears voices, is committed to a mental hospital where a young nurse is brutally murdered. The female prosecutor who arrives to investigate has the cooperation of the two men who found the body, a fireman who has committed a crime of conscience and been sent for observation and Francis, who is saner than most of the other inmates and whom the fireman has befriended. Actually, the voices Francis hears in his head are the sorts of thoughts and responses that go through everybody’s head, such as, Run! Hide! This is a bad idea! Francis is certifiably insane because he hears these things rather than just thinking them, and the voices all talk at the same time. This may be a description of a rather benign form of schizophrenia, but I can see that it would still cause a mental mess.
The hospital is described as a depressing place but one where people are mostly trying to do their jobs, and if the two doctors in charge aren’t concerned about justice for the probably innocent inmate who’s been arrested, it’s mainly because their overriding interest is to avoid problems for themselves.
The murderer must be either a patient or an employee of the hospital, but there is no easy way to figure out who it is. An annoying aspect of the writing was young Francis periodically thinking that as a bona fide lunatic himself, he’s achieved some profound insight into the thinking of their murderer, followed by a comment like, “he must be smart”, or “we can tell that he isn’t afraid,” pronouncements that the prosecutor and the fireman seem to appreciate. It reminded me of an old joke from the time when PC users were frustrated by attempts to get assistance from Microsoft Help:
A small plane approaches Seattle in a thick fog. The pilot has no idea where he is until he spots an office building poking out of the mist. As he flies past a lighted window, he shouts to the man at the desk inside, “Where is this?”
“It’s the accounting department!” the office worker shouts back.
Now the pilot can find the airport, because the reply told him immediately that he was at the Microsoft building. That’s because the reply was perfectly accurate and completely useless.