Mental Case

Mental Case

by James Neal Harvey

View All Available Formats & Editions

NYPD detective Ben Tolliver investigates a series of seemingly motiveless murders

A beautiful woman strides into a jewelry store and asks to try on the finest diamond they have. After admiring it in the mirror, she draws a revolver and kills everyone in the shop, screaming, “Horrible! Vile! Hideous! Filthy!” As the smoke clears, she looks at


NYPD detective Ben Tolliver investigates a series of seemingly motiveless murders

A beautiful woman strides into a jewelry store and asks to try on the finest diamond they have. After admiring it in the mirror, she draws a revolver and kills everyone in the shop, screaming, “Horrible! Vile! Hideous! Filthy!” As the smoke clears, she looks at the security camera, puts the pistol in her mouth, and pulls the trigger.

Who was this woman? Why did she kill, and why did she turn the gun on herself? The case falls to Detective Ben Tolliver, a homicide cop who is not afraid of asking tough questions. The killer was the daughter of a major political player who will do whatever it takes to cover up his child’s troubled past. At the root of the conspiracy is a disturbed doctor whose experiments go far beyond ethical science, and who has the power to destroy Tolliver’s mind, body, and soul.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The hokiness that hallmarked Harvey's three previous Ben Tolliver, NYPD thrillers peaks in this fourth (after Flesh and Blood, 1994). Like a latter-day Sax Rohmer, the author stirs in ravenous rats, experiments on severed human brains, a beautiful woman-turned-sex-slave and a villain with the delicious name of Dr. Jonas Drang. Every bit the mad scientist, Drang, in his desire to transform the human brain and psyche, has been conducting illicit drug experiments on his psychiatric patients that have led to a high-profile attempted robbery and a series of random, motiveless murders in New York City. Tolliver is the cop investigating the crimes. Harvey's prose throughout remains bright and remarkably clean, no small feat given the gruesome nature of much of the action. While there's not much depth to the characters or themes, there is a certain deadpan charm to the sheer melodrama of it all; no doubt Dr. Fu Manchu is grinning in his grave. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Beth Whitacre, the beautiful and intelligent daughter of a wealthy and prominent citizen, goes for a walk one day. She enters a posh jewelry story, takes out a gun, shoots three people dead, and then shoots herself. Why? The mayor and D.A. want the answers. Intrepid investigator Ben Tolliver is sent out to find them. Ben finally stumbles across the trail of Dr. Jonas Drang, an evil genius the likes of whom has not been seen since the Emperor Ming in the old Flash Gordon movies-and about as believable too. In fact, all the characters in this latest Ben Tolliver book (Flesh & Blood, St. Martin's, 1994) are unbelievable. Tolliver is shot by poisoned bullets, his car is fire-bombed and melts, and this bozo walks, illegally, into Drang's dark, unlocked (in New York City?) house, with no back-up or radio contact and not even a flashlight. When Tolliver is caught, gassed by one of Drang's puppets, and tied to a chair, his escape method is bravado, snarls, and curses. Of course Drang must leave our hero alone to make his escape. Tolliver uses the old cut-the-ropes-with-broken-glass ploy. How do you do this without getting bloody fingers, hands, and wrists? If you like high camp, this is it.-Dawn L. Anderson, North Richland Hills P. L., Tex.,
George Needham
This strange amalgam of police procedural, anti-Prozac screed, and mad-scientist story concerns a beautiful young socialite who kills three people and then commits suicide in an exclusive Manhattan jewelry store. Asked by the woman's politically connected father to look into the bizarre case, NYPD detective Ben Tolliver discovers that the woman had a high level of an antidepressant in her system. Meanwhile, the mysterious Dr. Drang experiments with combining various pharmaceuticals to give him total mind control over his patients, one of whom he has turned into an assassin and another into his personal love slave. (As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.) Drang is completely amoral, unspeakably arrogant, and would have been a perfect role for the late Christopher Lee. Tolliver tracks the evil psychiatrist to his secret lair, and the inevitable showdown produces the expected results. This book is great Grand Guignolstyle fun, if the reader is careful not to take it too seriously.
Kirkus Reviews
The fourth case for Lt. Ben Tolliver, about linked murders in Manhattan, as Harvey attempts to upgrade his series begun with the overly predictable The Headsman (1991).

A beautiful, wealthy blond walks into a jewelry store, asks to see a $100,000 necklace, then shoots the jeweler, his security guard, a customer, and finally herself. Reviewing the store's videotape, Tolliver can't find anything to go on besides the woman's unearthly calmness. The medical examiner eventually finds a Prozac-like substance (fluoxetine) in her blood, though that's a mere mood-enhancer. Then there are two more mysterious murders in the Village, on two different nights, as a young man walks up to a visitor, then to an antiques dealer, and stabs each to death through the breastbone. Some yellow capsules found by one of the bodies points to the same Prozac-derivative. Though Tolliver runs into blind alleys for over half the novel, the reader is introduced to Dr. Jonas Drang, a psychiatrist with a secret cellar lab for research on psychopharmaceuticals who has whipped up a swell new antidepressant made from rats' brain cells—but can't get the dosage right. The drug boosts the taker's confidence hugely, granting an amazing calm, but also releases the aggressiveness inherent in Dr. Drang's outsized Norwegian rats, mammals second in intelligence only to monkeys. When he does get it right, he'll go to Switzerland (he's already buying a house there) and give Eli Lilly a run for its money. Fact is, Dr. Drang's real objective is a drug that will allow armies to build up cadres of superbly aggressive soldiers. When Tolliver eventually gets too close to Dr. Drang, the good doctor gets in touch with his Village stabber. This fails, but Tolliver at last winds up bound in Dr. Drang's black-out cellar, being eaten alive by hungry rats . . . .

Credible policework and fantasy sex give way to comic-book grue. Even so, a distinct series improvement.

Product Details

Publisher: Road
Publication date:
Ben Tolliver Mysteries
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
655 KB

Read an Excerpt

Mental Case

A Ben Tolliver Mystery

By James Neal Harvey


Copyright © 1996 James Neal Harvey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-8584-6


The young woman strode down the west side of Fifth Avenue at a steady pace. She was tall and slender, and in the bright spring sunlight her blond hair reflected glints of gold. Although her features were partly obscured by large, gradient-density sunglasses, it was apparent to anyone who looked at her that she was beautiful; she had a model's high cheekbones and short, slim nose, and her full-lipped mouth was wide and sensuous.

Smartly dressed in a gray coat and medium-heeled pumps, she carried a large black leather handbag, its strap slung over her left shoulder. Except for her extraordinary good looks, she seemed to be just one more of the countless pedestrians enjoying pleasant weather on this Saturday afternoon, after a winter that had dumped tons of snow on New York.

As she walked, men glanced at her admiringly, but she paid no attention to them; she held her head high, and behind the glasses, her eyes were unreadable. She passed the Channel Gardens promenade at Rockefeller Center, and then at 47th Street, she turned right, entering the city's diamond district.

A few steps in from Fifth Avenue was a store that appeared more decorous than its neighbors. Its facade was beige limestone, and in its show windows were items of precious jewelry. The prices were very high, and perhaps for that reason the shop was not as busy as some of the others. A sign over the entrance said PAUL SERENBETZ JEWELERS. The young woman opened the brass-mounted glass door and went into the store.

Inside were three customers: a middle-aged man and woman who were looking at gold bangles, and another woman in a cashmere coat who was buying a ring. The gray-haired jeweler was waiting on the couple, and a female clerk was serving the other customer. A uniformed guard was standing in a corner.

The young woman waited her turn patiently, her arms at her sides, looking straight ahead. Only the clerk acknowledged her, smiling and saying she'd be with her shortly. The young woman nodded briefly and the clerk resumed dealing with her customer.

Meantime, the couple seemed unable to make a choice. Finally, the woman said she thought they ought to look around, and her companion nudged her toward the door. As they left the shop, the jeweler went about putting the bangles back into the showcase.

The customer in the cashmere coat wrote out a check and handed it to the salesclerk, asking her to gift wrap the ring. The clerk said she'd be happy to, then took the ring and the check into the back room.

The jeweler then looked up at the young blond woman and smiled. "Yes, may I help you?"

"I want to buy a diamond necklace," she said. Her tone was low-pitched, revealing no emotion.

"Of course. Did you have any particular style in mind?"

"I want one with a lot of stones—large stones."

He was looking her over, gauging her. "I see. Can you give me a minute, please? I have some that are really outstanding, but they're not in the case. Something like that, I don't keep on display. I'll get them for you."

She nodded briefly.

"I'll be right back." He turned and went through the door behind him, where the clerk had gone a moment earlier.

The young woman remained motionless. Beside her, the woman in the cashmere coat said, "Lovely day outside, isn't it?"

"Yes." She didn't look at the other customer.

The woman seemed about to make another remark, but then apparently changed her mind. Something about the younger shopper's manner, and what she could see of the stony expression, was off-putting. She looked away and tapped long red fingernails on the glass surface of the display case.

The jeweler returned from the back room, carrying a stack of three flat black grosgrain boxes. Placing the boxes on the counter, he opened them and took out strings of gems, which he laid side by side on the black velvet pad.

The necklaces were breathtaking. All three were heavily worked with diamonds that were mounted in platinum settings. In the light from the overhead fluorescent bars, the gems glittered against the black velvet like stars in the night sky.

"These are very special," the jeweler said. "I buy the stones myself and design the necklaces. Each one is unique."

The other customer couldn't help peering over at the display. "Say, those are fantastic."

"Yes, they are," the jeweler said proudly. "Every diamond is very high quality, at least a VS, and with G color. And none of them are smaller than a half a carat." He indicated the center stone in one of the necklaces. "That one is three carats."

The young woman made no comment. Taking the bag from her shoulder, she set it on the counter.

"They're all beautiful," the jeweler said. "Just a matter of what you like. You care to try one on?"

"Yes." She pointed at the piece that contained the largest diamonds. "That one."

"Fine, let me help you."

"No, I'll do it." She picked up the necklace and draped it around her neck, fastening the clasp at the back.

The jeweler's smile widened. "Ah, that's lovely on you."

She looked at him.

"I mean it. Absolutely wonderful." He stepped aside and gestured toward the mirror that covered the wall behind him. "Here, look for yourself."

The young woman glanced at her reflection and then returned her attention to the jeweler.

"I can make you a special price," he said.

She made no reply, but opened her bag and reached inside.

And took out a heavy stainless-steel revolver.

The jeweler's eyes bulged at the sight of the weapon. He raised his hands, and as he did, she shot him in the chest.

The bullet knocked the man backward, his pupils wide and his mouth locked open in astonishment, a bright red blossom spreading on his white shirt. He stumbled against the wall and began to slide down it.

The young woman turned to her left, training the pistol on the guard. For an instant, he gaped at her as if unable to grasp what had happened, and then his hand snatched at his own gun in the holster on his hip.

She shot him next, the slug slamming into his belly and doubling him over but not taking him down. His cap fell off and a second shot struck him in the top of the head. He collapsed in a heap on the floor of the shop.

The other customer found her voice then. She let out a piercing shriek that ended abruptly when the young woman put a bullet between her eyes. Her head snapped back from the impact and she fell against the display case, rolling downward onto her side, dead before she landed on the terrazzo surface. Her hands and feet quivered for a moment and then she was still.

The young woman looked at the door to the back room and saw that the clerk had opened it a crack and was peering in horror at the bloody scene. As the muzzle of the pistol swung toward her, the clerk slammed the door. The young woman fired again, the bullet punching a hole in the wooden panel where the clerk's head had been a split second earlier.

Mounted high on a wall in the corner of the store was a small video camera. The young woman looked up at it and saw that it was staring back at her.

She raised the pistol, and as she did, her pulse raced faster and faster. Her head throbbed as the pounding of her heartbeat reached a deafening climax, and above the sound, she could hear a voice calling to her.

"Horrible!" the voice screamed. "Vile! Hideous! Filthy ..."

For a moment, she stood stock-still, listening. Then she realized the voice was her own.

Still gazing at the TV lens far above her, she shoved the barrel of the pistol into her mouth and pulled the trigger.


At his desk in the Special Investigation Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Detective Lt. Ben Tolliver sat back in his chair and sipped coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

Tolliver was bored. The case he was working on involved racketeering in the city's construction unions, which was like trying to pin the tail on not one but an endless line of donkeys. Make an arrest, and ten other guys popped up to take the place of the accused—which led to more arrests and more indictments, but few convictions. As a result, the courts were clogged to choking and defense attorneys got rich and it cost more and took longer to build in the city than it ever had.

To some detectives, an assignment like this would be a coveted prize. Shuffle papers; work nine to five. Kiss a few asses to move up in grade; live the good life until it was pension time. And along the way, if you were smart, some of the money that greased the trades would come your way as well.

Ben hated it. The slow-moving, grind-it-out procedures of gathering evidence were enough to make him loathe going to work, and to put him to sleep when he got there. Sure as hell this wasn't why he'd joined the NYPD.

Although exactly why he had, those many years ago when he'd been a starry-eyed kid just out of the Marine Corps, it was hard to remember. Probably because at the time he thought he'd be dedicating his life to winning the battle against the forces of evil, not growing calluses on his butt.

Ironically, getting this assignment had been his own fault. Back when he was in charge of the Sixth Precinct detective squad, he'd run up an impressive record, breaking a number of high-profile cases. That had brought him to the DA's attention, and had led to his being here now, spending most of his time chained to a desk.

A tall, rangy man, he wasn't physically suited to working indoors, either. With his burly shoulders and his cap of dark curly hair, his ice blue eyes and brush mustache, he looked as if he might be a construction worker himself, instead of a plainclothes cop. After an hour or two in his tiny glass-enclosed office, he got itchy, longing to stretch his legs, get out in the air. Even the noxious exhaust-laden fumes of the city were preferable to the atmosphere in here.

"Hey, Ben."

He looked up, to see Capt. Fred Logan enter the room.

Logan was the commander of the unit, and in looks and temperament, the opposite of Tolliver. He was ten years older, with thinning reddish brown hair and round features, his manner that of a shrewd old pol. While Ben loathed wearing a tie and sometimes didn't, the captain was a natty dresser, favoring dark suits and bright foulards. Today he had on a navy double-breasted, and the tie was red and yellow.

"Hello, Cap. Surprised to see you here on a Saturday," Tolliver said. "Thought you'd be playing golf."

Logan smiled. "Just came in to clean up a few things."

That figured. There was never more than a handful of the dozen men and women in the unit working on a weekend; today Ben could see three of them at their desks out in the open area, and what they seemed to be doing mostly was swapping gossip. In another hour, they'd all be gone, and on Monday they'd put in for overtime.

"Got something I want you to look into," the captain said.

Inwardly, Tolliver groaned, envisioning yet another paper trail—more fake receipts to hunt for, more inflated invoices, more canceled checks made out to ghosts and phony corporations.

But Logan surprised him. "There was a shooting a little while ago. I picked up the dispatcher's call on the scanner in my office. A woman went in a jewelry store on West Forty-seventh Street and blew away three people. Then she killed herself."

Ben whistled softly. "What was her problem?"

"No word on that. I called Midtown North and spoke to Terry McGrath. They caught the case."

"Sounds like she had a grudge."

"Either that or she just went crazy and started shooting. Although a female mass murderer is a new one on me."

"Who was she?"

"That was another shocker. McGrath told me she had ID in her wallet that said she was Beth Whitacre. Her father's an investment banker who raised a lot of money for the mayor's campaign."

"Oh, Christ."

"What is it—you know those people?"

"I've known Line Whitacre for years—ever since I came on the job. Never met his daughter, though."

"The media will go batshit," Logan said. "And so will the mayor and the PC."

"You have any more on what happened?"

"No, that's it. McGrath has a couple of his men on the scene and he said he'll be going over himself. I want you to get up there and find out what you can, write a report. The old man'll want to know."

That was true. An incident of this kind would have far-reaching implications, and DA Henry Oppenheimer was above all politically astute. He'd want to have the facts in hand as quickly as possible.

Tolliver gestured toward the pile of papers on his desk. "I'm supposed to get this ready by Monday. We're trying to make a case against August Rafella, one of the Gambinos' lawyers."

"Yeah, I know. But don't worry about it. You got Grady and Melnick working with you, right?"


"So let them handle it. Who's the ADA?"

"Norman Krantz."

"I'll speak to him on Monday. For now, you get into this other thing, okay?"

"Sure." Tolliver rose to his feet, picking his blazer off the back of his chair and shrugging into it. "Where on Forty-seventh?"

"Near Fifth. Cops'll have the street blocked off at that end."

As he rode down in the elevator, Ben thought about what Logan had told him. Lincoln Whitacre's daughter had killed three people and then herself? What the hell could have possessed her?


The fastest route from the Criminal Justice Building to midtown was the FDR Drive. Tolliver drove his Ford Taurus up Centre Street to Houston, turning right and heading for the FDR. Going north, the East River Park was on his right, and beyond it the swift, roiling waters of the river. He picked up speed, squinting into the bright sunshine.

He had the right machine for hurrying. The Ford appeared innocent enough on the outside, a plain blue sedan, but on the inside it was something else. Specially prepared by the factory for police work, the car was powered by a beefed-up 32-valve V-8 with an intercooler and high-lift cams. The car could top 150 mph, and to hold it on the road, the suspension featured antisway bars and heavy-duty shocks.

But the Taurus's charms didn't stop there. The NYPD's Motor Transport people had added a few additional touches, such as bullet-resistant glass all around and armor plate in the front door panels and behind the driver's seat. Under the dash was a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun in a quick-release scabbard, and the car's trunk held extra ammunition along with a coil of nylon rope and a complete set of burglar's tools.

Experience had taught Tolliver it was wise to be prepared, even if you didn't know what it was you were preparing for. As proof of the adage, the Taurus was the second he'd owned. The first had been wrecked after a high-speed chase in another case. In that one, the armor had saved his life—not once, but twice.

He got off the FDR at the UN exit. Going across town, the traffic abruptly slowed to a crawl. Ahead of him for as far as he could see, the stream of vehicles was barely moving. Reaching under his seat, he picked the portable flasher off the floor and leaned out the window, slapping the device onto the roof of the car. Then he hit the hammer, activating both the red light and the siren.

As the unholy wail rent the air, other vehicles reluctantly pulled over to let the Taurus go by. In this town, people thought they were doing you a big favor by giving way to a police car or even an ambulance. One asshole in a Cadillac just went on inching along in the middle of the street, staring straight ahead and ignoring the flasher and the oo-ee-oo-ee behind him. Finally, Ben tapped his bumper against the rear of the other car. The Caddy gave ground and he whipped past.

When he reached Sixth Avenue, he again headed north. The traffic was a little lighter here, but thick, nevertheless. At 47th Street, he turned right again, going east on the westbound street. He was able to race along it because, as Logan had said, cops had sealed off the Fifth Avenue end.

Spotting the crime scene was no problem; there were three patrol cars there now and two ambulances, along with a CSU van. Flashing lights were throwing bright beams in all directions.

Tolliver pulled to a stop and turned off the ignition, then shut down the flasher and the siren. He dropped a police placard on the dash before getting out of the vehicle.

As he approached the store, he saw that cops had put yellow tape across the sidewalk in front of the place. They'd also set up blue-painted wooden barricades and were holding back a large crowd of rubberneckers. The media had arrived, as well; they monitored police radio channels around the clock, and now reporters and photographers were pushing their way to the forefront, among them at least two TV cameramen.


Excerpted from Mental Case by James Neal Harvey. Copyright © 1996 James Neal Harvey. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

James Neal Harvey spent fifteen years in the advertising business before selling his company and devoting himself to writing. He made his hardcover debut in 1990 with By Reason of Insanity, which introduced NYPD detective Ben Tolliver.

Harvey followed Tolliver through four more novels, including Painted LadiesMental Case, and the concluding thriller, Dead Game. In 2011, Harvey published the nonfiction Sharks of the Air, a detailed history of the development of the first jet fighter, and in 2014, he returned to thrillers with The Big Hit, a mystery about an assassin. 
James Neal Harvey spent fifteen years in the advertising business before selling his company and devoting himself to writing. He made his hardcover debut in 1990 with By Reason of Insanity, which introduced NYPD detective Ben Tolliver.

Harvey followed Tolliver through four more novels, including Painted Ladies, Mental Case, and the concluding thriller, Dead Game. In 2011, Harvey published the nonfiction Sharks of the Air, a detailed history of the development of the first jet fighter, and in 2014, he returned to thrillers with The Big Hit, a mystery about an assassin. 

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >