Book Review: Psycho: Sanitarium – Chet Williamson

I kindly received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.

Published: 12th April 2016 (Canelo)Psycho

Synopsis: The original Psycho novel by Robert Bloch was published in 1959 and became an instant hit, leading to the smash movie only a year later, which brought Norman Bates’ terrifying story into the public consciousness, where it still remains (proven by the success of the television series, Bates Motel). It took Bloch 23 years to write another Psycho novel, revealing that Norman had been in a mental institution the entire time. In that sequel, Norman quickly escapes the sanitarium and goes on a killing spree in Hollywood.

But what happened in that asylum during those two decades? Until now, no one has known.

It’s 1960. Norman Bates is in the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and it’s up to Dr. Felix Reed to bring him out of his catatonic state.

But Norman and Dr. Reed have obstacles in twisted fellow patients and staff members who think of the institution as a prison rather than a place of healing. And the greatest obstacle is the building itself, once a private sanitarium, rumored to be haunted. A wild card appears in the persona of Robert Newman, Norman’s twin brother, taken away at birth after the attending doctor pronounced him brain damaged. As Robert and Norman grow to know each other, Norman senses a darkness in Robert, even deeper than that which has lurked in Norman himself.

Soon, murders begin to occur and a shocking chain of events plunge us even deeper into the deranged madness inside the walls of Psycho: Sanitarium.

Whilst I have never read Psycho or it’s sequel, I was intrigued when I saw this book promoted on Twitter having watched and loved the film following my analysis of it for my degree.

Psycho: Sanitarium opens in October 1960 with a summary as to why Norman is in the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. We learn that 40 years prior to the present day of the novel, the building used to be the Ollinger Sanitarium, specifically for private patients, and it is those patients that allegedly still roam the building.

Mother, who Norman alleges was the true perpetrator of the murders he is imprisoned for, is still ‘with’ him. Norman is a shell of a human being, entrapped in his own head, controlled by Mother. He is taunted by the Head Attendant, Myron Gunn and another particularly disturbing patient, as such there is no progression seen in his mental health.

That is until Dr Reed takes over his care, supported by Nurse Marie, and he recognises that Norman has multiple personalities; the adult Norman, the child Norman and finally Norma (Mother) who is the dominate character.

Myron, along with Eleanor Lindstrom (Head Nurse) and Dr. Goldberg (Hospital Superintendent) have more physical approaches on how the patients should be treated – Goldberg’s current method of choice being electroshock treatment which he feels that Norman would be a perfect candidate for. Dr Reed has the challenge of using his methods and feels the pressure of delivering results, the longer it takes for Norman to come out of himself, the more Goldberg pushes the electroshock treatment.

The narrative of the story is from the first person perspective of various characters rather than focusing on the one voice which helps build the story and throw in the red-herrings. In addition to this you also have memoirs from the Doctor at the Ollinger Sanitarium and Norman’s flashbacks to the murders from Psycho which are wonderfully described. Having seen the film, it is interesting to read these from Norman’s perspective and have the tension built up without the benefit of cinematology and an amazing musical score!

The storyline is a little predicable however that does not detract from the enjoyment of the book, even though I could see generally where the story was going, there was still twists that I didn’t see. It is interesting how Williamson ties everything together and it starts to become apparent as to what is actually happening and how the individual components are related. What is also interesting is how Williamson has squeezed this book into the 2 Bloch books, picking up where Psycho left and setting the scene for it’s sequel. A well thought-out plot and character base.

About the author:

Chet Williamson’s parents took him to see the film of Robert Bloch’s “Psycho “when he was twelve, and he has been a reader and disciple of Bloch ever since. His stories have appeared in” The New Yorker, Playboy, “and many other magazines and anthologies. A collection of his stories received the International Horror Guild Award. He has twice been a final nominee for the World Fantasy Award, the MWA’s Edgar Award, and six times for the HWA’s Stoker Award. He has narrated over thirty audiobooks. Among his other novels are “Defenders of the Faith, Ash Wednesday, Second Chance, Dreamthorp, Lowland Rider, Reign, “and “Soulstorm, “as well as “The Searchers” trilogy, and two collections of stories, “The Night Listener and Others” and “Figures in Rain.”

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Psycho: Sanitarium – Chet Williamson

  1. Pingback: May’s round up |

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