“Delusional,” by Terry Lewis

Terry Lewis

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

Ted Stevens, still sporting a host of flaws, returns as a criminal defense lawyer in another gripping courtroom mystery by Terry Lewis.

Delusional, the third in the Ted Stevens series, follows Conflict of Interest and Privileged Information. It is Lewis’s most compelling book yet.

In Delusional Ted is appointed by the court to defend Nathan Hart, a young man confined to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee for murdering his family—a crime Ted prosecuted.

Now Nathan is accused of murdering Aaron Rosenberg, a psychologist and administrator at the mental hospital. The motive? Rosenberg denied Nathan’s latest request to be released.

Not only did Nathan threaten to kill Rosenberg, but also an eyewitness placed Nathan at the murder scene, where his clothes were later found with blood stains.

The novel alternates first person accounts between Ted and Nathan, creating strong psychological profiles of both men and powerful suspense. This technique keeps us deeply involved and probing for the truth until the last pages.

As Ted delves into hospital affairs, he begins to wonder, despite all the evidence to the contrary, if Nathan might be innocent. Ted’s doubts infect the reader, but as we learn how clever and warped Nathan is, we don’t want to be manipulated by him any more than Ted does. 

Nathan Hart is a fascinating character. We never doubt that he is mentally ill. We might give him a pass on believing God talks to him, because as he puts it: “Communication with the creator of the universe is not the sign of a mind out of touch with reality but of a soul in touch with the cosmos.”

But Nathan also believes his family members were involved in a worldwide conspiracy, part of a covert agency called “The Unit.” His evidence? Dog-eared magazines left on an end table. The arrangement of food in the refrigerator. A door left slightly ajar. You get the idea—Nathan is nuts. But he is also highly intelligent and can be charming at times.

What Ted has to determine is whether Nathan’s claims of innocence are valid—or just the rants of a delusional, paranoid schizophrenic.

Several staff members, though it seems unlikely, could have murdered Rosenberg. Frank Hutchinson, legal counsel at the hospital, might have motive. His wife, a psychologist, is rumored to have had an affair with the deceased. Dr. Rebecca Whitsen, Nathan’s psychologist; and James Washington, a social worker; had access to Nathan’s clothes and his food and medications—and Nathan swears he was being poisoned. Another possibility is the hospital’s Chief of Security. He is being investigated for sexual misconduct with patients. Rosenberg pushed the investigation, in which Nathan served as a witness.

Nathan also believes his uncle, a professor of international studies, could be behind the murder because of the Hart family’s connections to “The Unit.” Ted dismisses that as nonsense, but might the uncle have other reasons to want his nephew incarcerated?

And since this is a mental hospital, other patients with criminal tendencies provide alternatives Ted can present to a jury. Donnie Mercer is an inmate capable of violence. And then there is the mysterious Cindy Sands, a former patient who once stalked Dr. Whitsen.

Like any good series, this one has personal issues that develop from book to book. The client isn’t the only one with delusions. Ted Stevens fools himself into believing he has his addictions under control, but his substance abuse jeopardizes his career and the stability of his family.

Ted drinks and uses drugs to overcome “constant melancholy, which at times became a sadness so deep and dark nothing could penetrate it.” When under the influence, he demonstrates poor judgment and loses control of his temper. He creates more problems for himself, and then has even more reason to descend into that dark hole.

Watching layer upon layer of this psychological mystery peel away to reveal the truth is pure pleasure. The final judgment is messy, like real life, where evaluating good and evil can be difficult.

If you enjoy a good legal thriller, you’ll love this one for its complex characters and riveting plot.

Terry Lewis brings a wealth of courtroom experience to bear on his novels. He has been a circuit court judge in the Second Judicial Circuit in Florida since 1998, with prior service as a county judge in that circuit from 1989-98. His most famous decision occurred during the 2000 presidential election when he determined Florida’s secretary of state had to include recounted ballots in her final state presidential tally. The decision was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court, and George W. Bush became president.

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