Primal Fear by William Diehl

Title: Primal Fear

Author: William Diehl

Publisher: AEI/Story Merchant Books

Publication date: July 16, 2012

Genre: Psychological thriller

Summary: Martin Vail is the attorney prosecutors hate and the accused love. On the heels of another win in court, Vail is handed the pro bono case of Aaron Stampler, the young man accused of murdering the city’s archbishop, who is called the “Saint of Lakeview Drive.” The evidence is stacked against Aaron and Vail is guaranteed a lose. However, that doesn’t stop Vail from dedicating all of his resources to this case. As he and his team get to work, his psychologist makes an astounding discovery: Aaron Stampler has Multiple Personality Disorder. With a surprising avalanche of new information about Aaron and the archbishop coming to light, Vail may not be facing a total loss after all.

Primal Fear is a well-crafted story that flows from beginning to end, never meandering or deviating. Tightly written, it focuses on the story it is telling. Little by little, revelations about Aaron and the archbishop and the murder itself are made in a logical progression, each piece tying together with those that came before, letting the tale unfold naturally. There are twists and turns that make the story interesting, compelling the reader to go a little further, but not enough to be confusing or lose sight of the overarching story. Primal Fear, though, did not become especially compelling to me until the idea of multiple personalities came into play. With a background in clinical psychology, I was particularly interested to see how it played out and what impact it would have on the trial. I greatly enjoyed this twist and the portrayal of Multiple Personality Disorder had an authentic ring to it, despite the fact that the existence of this disorder is questionable. Ultimately, the idea of MPD offered a truly unsettling and thought provoking and to an already complex story and individual.

The story Primal Fear tells is helped along by the thoughtfully created characters that tell it. Who they were, what they did, and how they ended up there fit nicely. Though some of the backstories ran a little long and sometimes felt a little convoluted, it helped flesh out each character and gave them a unique personality and place in the story. Despite a large cast, each character, including those that we only meet once, was thoughtfully created to be an individual who had something to offer to help drive the story forward. Of note, I found Aaron to be particularly well-crafted, especially when the second personality came to light. The personalities were distinct and Diehl did a great job of exploring this virtually non-existent disorder, making Aaron, whose perspective we never get, extraordinarily complex with a mind and motivations we cannot even begin to comprehend.

Though Primal Fear is told by several characters, my one complaint is we never hear from Aaron himself. Instead of getting the story through one character, we get it from those that witness each new fact and take that comes to light. We get to experience the action and the reaction of the character experiencing it along with them instead of getting it all secondhand. While some parts are told this way, the reader, for the most part, gets to experience the story as it unfolds, leaving some space for us to make sense of it before Vail gets his hands on it. It helps give Aaron and the archbishop complexity and depth even as they are the only ones we never hear from, the latter being, understandably, dead. While I would have loved to get into Aaron’s mind, it makes sense that this would be impossible. The story would be very different and the end wouldn’t be as haunting. Still, I am very intrigued by what was going through his mind and how he experienced the story Diehl told.

Diehl’s writing style was a good complement to the story he told. A psychological thriller that delves into human nature and motivation, it called for a sort of suspenseful writing that both told a story and left the reader pondering. The writing was down to Earth, gritty without any niceties. The dialogue was believable and matched the character speaking. Though I had some difficulty getting into the first quarter of the story, due to slow setup and multiple introductions, it was worth it to keep going. I did note some missing words and grammatical mistakes, but, considering I was reading the Kindle version, the conversion to ebook might not have been perfect.

Bottom line: an overall excellent psychological thriller exploring crime, human nature, and Multiple Personality Disorder (I admit the last was what really hooked me) with an intriguing story and great writing, despite some scenes that were a little too unsettling for my tastes.

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