Mind Games, Carolyn Crane’s debut novel, focuses on Justine Jones, an average gal working in Mid-City (which seems very Chicago-like) as a clerk in a high-end boutique clothing store. She has a handsome, successful boyfriend, and a life that is fairly vanilla if you don’t factor in her crippling hypochondria. Her persistent belief that she’s suffering from a disease known as vein star syndrome (which killed her mother many years before) has meant that in her life she’s driven away boyfriend after boyfriend and spent quite a bit of her time at various doctor’s offices demanding diagnostic tests to see if she’s about to die. She desperately clings to what normalcy she’s managed to maintain, but it is a fear that rules her life, and a fear that brings her to the attention of Sterling Packard.
Mid-city has been terrorized by criminals for the past eight years, and Packard runs, he tells Justine, a crime-fighting team. Within this team she will learn how to turn her hypochondria into a weapon, focusing it on criminals and crippling them with fear as she as been crippled all her adult life. In doing this, she’ll gain freedom from her fear and be able to live as a normal person would (secret crime-fighting life aside). It’s a deal that seems perfect.
The decision is one that Justine struggles with. The idea of being a vigilante doesn’t sit well with her, but she knows that to continue on as she is means a complete breakdown. Her hypochondria will eventually drive her mad. Is it justifiable to make someone else suffer in the same way if that person is a murderer, rapist, or crime boss?
“When is good not good?” Jordan, a minor character, asks Justine. It is a question that those around her blow off. Everyone knows that Jordan isn’t to be taken seriously. Near the end of the story, though, Justine finds herself re-examining this question. Attached to this question for me is: Is a criminal really reformed if the reformation is forced? Mind Games is a very different story than A Clockwork Orange, but as I read it, I couldn’t help but compare the criminal reformation tactics used in both novels. In both cases those who prey on society are forcibly reprogrammed, an action that forces larger questions to the surface. It is a secondary plot point to Justine’s development as a character, but an important one. As I understand it, this is the first part of a planned trilogy, so I’m curious to see how this aspect of the narrative is addressed in the future–I can’t imagine Jordan and her hints aren’t foreshadowing more to come.
Mind Games is an urban fantasy with strong romance subplot, and some mystery aspects as well. I personally could have done without the more detailed sex scenes, but I am glad what was there served the purpose of the plot, and wasn’t just sex for sex’s sake. That said, Justine is a well-developed, likable narcissist with a sense of humor I can identify with. Narrated in the first person present, it is easy to get up close and personal with Justine, her neurosis, and the crime-fighting life she finds herself drawn into. It’s an enjoyable read.