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L.A. Mental: A Thriller by Neil McMahon
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L.A. Mental: A Thriller

by Neil McMahon

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The world is going crazy around Tom Crandall in Neil McMahon’s L.A. Mental. His brother, Nick, calls him in a paranoid frenzy, probably drug-induced. When Tom finds him, Nick literally jumps off a cliff. His sister, Erica, has been receiving threats. His brother Paul is involved in a film project with a charismatic figure that he follows with a cult-like intensity. And those are the only strange things happening — all over Los Angeles, people are going on destructive rampages for no discernible reason. Is there a connection?

The story gets better — and stranger. The film project looks very much like a cult. The project’s leader, Gunnar Kelso, is a former physicist, a brilliant scientist whose ideas may have gone off the deep end. Now he has a posse of Beautiful People — actors, writers, producers and the wealthy elite — huddled around him, turning over their cash and following his instructions, all in a bid for power. Kelso promises that his organization, Parallax Productions, can lead its members to immense personal power.

Basically, imagine Scientology is real, and not a hoax dreamed up by a sci-fi writer. You’ve got some similar concepts — pneuma and Gatekeepers and other crazy stuff — along with the promise of great power, tremendous secrecy and the requirement to hand over a lot of money. They also tend to go after the people who decline their invitation to sign up for the craziness, and that’s the position Tom finds himself in. Strange things begin to happen and Tom has to ask himself: is this a scam or is it real?

There’s evidence pointing in both directions and the great fun of the book is the way it wavers back and forth. First, we get a tidbit that clearly says it’s a scam; next, something completely inexplicable happens. It’s a good mystery, lots of turns and twists, and plenty of moments where you think you know where it’s going, but you’re wrong. It’s not particularly scary, but there’s plenty of action and lots and lots of questions. This was a fun read that would make a very interesting movie.

My one big criticism is the ending. There’s a bit too much cloak and dagger and then a rather abrupt full stop. There’s a bit of a teaser for a sequel, but it didn’t leave me panting after the next book. ( )
  LisaLynne | Jan 1, 2012 |
Living in Southern California means being accustomed to movies finding yet another way to destroy Los Angeles and seeing all kinds of novels written about our fair or not so fair city. Given how stressful this city can be for its inhabitants, I was intrigued when I saw the title for bestselling author Neil McMahon’s newest psychological thriller, L.A. Mental. There are lots of things that could cause Angelenos to go mental, not least of which is their commute every day. Neil McMahon has taken a lot of the elements intrinsic to LA and woven them together into an exciting, smart new take on the psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat! Read the rest of my review at http://popcornreads.com/?p=1929 ( )
  PopcornReads | Oct 6, 2011 |
“Pseudoscientific snake oil” in Lalawood

Having just finished an emotionally devastating novel, I was looking for something lighter and a lot less challenging. Literary sorbet. Well, you get what you ask for.

LA Mental opens with several news reports of bizarre incidents of Angelino’s hurting themselves or others. From there, we’re plunged into the first-person world of clinical psychologist and college professor Tom Crandall as he gets a 3:00am wake-up call from his addict brother. Wanting to keep the police out of it, Tom ascertains his brother’s whereabouts in Malibu and races to the site. He find’s Nick’s cocaine-dusted car first, and stops to confiscate the drugs. He then follows the howls to his brother. Nick is perched on the edge of a cliff and even less coherent than usual, ranting, “There. Are. Worms. Eating my brain.” Tom’s attempt to lure him away from the ledge is interrupted by a cell phone call. Nick listens a moment and then immediately attacks Tom. The brief scuffle comes to a halt, and just as suddenly, Nick throws himself over the ledge. Tom leaps after.

And so it begins. I guess it’s not a terrible start, but this is one of those novels that just kept losing stars as it went. So much of the plot felt contrived, from Tom’s youthful background as a lifeguard, to a later convenient association with a renowned physicist. He comes from a family dripping with money, be unlike the rest of them, he chooses to live a modest, unassuming life. After that opening, the bulk of the plot revolves around a film production that his other brother, Paul, got the family involved with. It’s shooting on location at one of their properties. “The head of Parallax Productions—a native Swede named Gunnar Kelso—had been a world class physicist earlier in his life.” ‘Cause that’s normal. And the film they’re shooting isn’t just a little light entertainment; it actually explicates Kelso’s insane, cult-like theories. Kelso dresses his madness up in science, but Tom thinks to himself, “pseudoscientific snake oil.” That’s an understatement. God, it just gets more and more convoluted from there, and I don’t have the heart to go on. It’s all so dumb. I think I lost several IQ points just reading it.

I’m not very forgiving of bad science (and this is beyond bad), but it might be overlooked if the writing, characters, pacing, anything were exemplary, but it was all so… meh. Tom was such a non-entity to rest a novel on. I read this book at lightning speed, but I still kept forgetting his name. None of the other characters were very likable or especially noteworthy. Dialogue was occasionally cringe-worthy. (“If something goes wrong—they’re up against the power structure that owns the bones of this city.” Ugh.) Plot points are left hanging. It’s just a hot mess.

On the plus side, LA Mental is a short, quick read. It moved at a reasonable pace. It was, as requested, not too challenging. The author managed to capture the superficiality of Los Angeles. Most of the prose was serviceable. And best of all, I see no reason for a sequel. ( )
  suetu | Aug 8, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061340782, Hardcover)

Critically acclaimed writer Neil McMahon firmly establishes himself as one of today’s top thriller writers with this dark and mesmerizing story that weaves together Hollywood and a cult, old money and futuristic technologies—a powerful tale of suspense sure to catapult him to bestsellerdom.

A respected judge goes berserk, destroying his home. . . .

A wealthy celebrity widow is found floating unconscious in her pool. . . .

A brilliant young astrophysicist is killed when he runs onto a busy freeway. . . .

To psychologist Tom Crandall, the residents of Los Angeles seem to be going insane. Over the past few months, people have randomly become unhinged, exploding in violent, self-destructive rampages. Now Tom’s younger brother Nick is lying in a hospital bed after narrowly surviving a fall off a Malibu cliff. But, as Tom soon finds out, the accident is only the latest in a string of alarming events involving his troubled sibling. Nick has been blackmailing members of his wealthy family, including his brother Paul—a would-be Hollywood mogul whose latest project involves a film-production company headed by a charismatic scientist who holds some disturbing theories about power and human behavior.

Concerned about Paul’s dealings, Tom heads to the film set, where he meets a physicist turned filmmaker, the brilliant and enigmatic Swede named Gunnar Kelso. Soon Tom is caught in a terrifying scheme that threatens his sanity and his very life, and he must race to uncover the truth before it’s too late.

A tightly plotted tale of twisting suspense and paranoia, of cutting-edge science, a diabolical conspiracy, and family betrayal, L.A. Mental is a roller-coaster ride from the first page to the last.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:51 -0400)

Acclaimed mystery writer Neil McMahon, coauthor of the James Patterson thriller Toys, delivers a fast-paced psychological thriller from the heart of a city gone insane: America's myth-making capital, Los Angeles, has become a bedlam of murder, drugs, conspiracy, and obsession, and only one man has the power to put things right.… (more)

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