Personal Effects: Dark Art

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Want to try it yourself? Call the phone number shown on book's cover: 212-629-1951 and listen to the voicemail message for main character Zach Taylor.

Personal Effects follows the extensive notes of therapist Zach Taylor’s investigation into the life and madness of Martin Grace, an accused serial killer who claims to have foreseen, but not caused, his victims’ deaths. Zach’s investigations start with interviews and art sessions, but then take ...

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Want to try it yourself? Call the phone number shown on book's cover: 212-629-1951 and listen to the voicemail message for main character Zach Taylor.

Personal Effects follows the extensive notes of therapist Zach Taylor’s investigation into the life and madness of Martin Grace, an accused serial killer who claims to have foreseen, but not caused, his victims’ deaths. Zach’s investigations start with interviews and art sessions, but then take him far from the hospital grounds—and often very far from the reality that we know.

The items among Grace’s personal effects are the keys to understanding his haunted past, and finding the terrifying truth Grace hoped to keep buried:

• Call the phone numbers: you’ll get a character’s voicemail.

• Google the characters and institutions in the text: you’ll find real websites

• Examine the art and other printed artifacts included inside the cover: if you pay attention, you’ll find more information than the characters themselves discover Personal Effects, the ultimate in voyeuristic storytelling, represents a revolutionary step forward in changing the way people interact with novels.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Hutchins, author of the audiobook podcast trilogy 7th Son, makes his print debut with the stellar first of an interactive supernatural thriller series. Zach Taylor, an art therapist, must evaluate Martin Grace, a blind audio engineer suspected of a dozen homicides, to determine whether Martin is mentally competent to stand trial for the murder of hip-hop singer Tanya Gold, whose body was "torn literally limb from limb." Martin claims he's an "unwitting psychic sniper," foreseeing crimes actually committed by a Russian demon or "Dark Man." One of his possible earlier victims was Martin's psychiatrist, Sophronia Poole, the girlfriend of Zack's dad, William V. Taylor, the New York City DA seeking to convict Martin. Weisman, an alternative reality game whiz, is responsible for the items inside the book's front pocket-a psychiatric report, family photos, death and birth certificates, etc.-that allow the reader to follow a multimedia trail of clues. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Art therapist Zach Taylor draws the unenviable task of investigating alleged serial killer Martin Grace, who claims to have forseen but not caused the victims' deaths. This supernatural thriller incorporates technology: googling Martin Grace, for example, brings up newspaper articles about the murders, and the cell phone numbers in the book allow the reader to "access" a character's voicemail. As Taylor struggles to find the truth not only about his subject but also his own mysterious past, the artwork provides clues. Cutting-edge experimental fiction meets dark fantasy in an interactive novel that may herald the future of modern fiction. Sure to appeal to those who like offbeat fiction or horror.

—Jackie Cassada
Kirkus Reviews
An amateurish horror-mystery with an interactive twist. Hutchins, known for his 7th Son series of podcast novels, makes his print debut with this mediocre supernatural mystery. The book is a tie-in with an online "alternate-reality game" by game maker Smith & Tinker, and during the course of the story, readers can call real-life phone numbers in the text and get a character's voicemail, or visit related websites. The story is framed as the notes of Zach Taylor, an art therapist in a spooky mental hospital and features illustrations throughout. Taylor delves into the mystery of a psychosomatically blind patient, an accused murderer who claims his victims were dispatched by a murderous otherworldly entity called "The Dark Man." Taylor soon discovers that The Dark Man may not only be real but connected to his own family's troubled past. The novel is hobbled by a convoluted plot and remarkably poor writing. An interesting interactive marketing gimmick but a weak novel.
From the Publisher
"Hutchins, author of the audiobook podcast trilogy 7th Son, makes his print debut with the stellar first of an interactive supernatural thriller series. Zach Taylor, an art therapist, must evaluate Martin Grace, a blind audio engineer suspected of a dozen homicides, to determine whether Martin is mentally competent to stand trial for the murder of hip-hop singer Tanya Gold, whose body was “torn literally limb from limb.” Martin claims he’s an “unwitting psychic sniper,” fore-seeing crimes actually committed by a Russian demon or “Dark Man.” One of his possible earlier victims was Martin’s psychiatrist, Sophronia Poole, the girlfriend of Zack’s dad, William V. Taylor, the New York City DA seeking to convict Martin. Weisman, an alternative reality game whiz, is responsible for the items inside the book’s front pocket—a psychiatric report, family photos, death and birth certificates, etc.—that allow the reader to follow a multimedia trail of clues." —Starred Publishers Weekly (June)

"Start with an eerie setting. Add equal parts House, CSI, andThe X-Files. Place yourself at the side of an accidental detective embroiled in a complex web of madness, revenge, betrayal, and secret identities. Then light some dynamite under the box most novels live in and watch the pieces land outside the pages—in art, on websites, in e-mails, and in phone numbers that give you answers when you call. This is the future of storytelling, and it’s a thrilling ride." —Anthony E. Zuiker, Creator/Executive Producer of the CSI: Franchise

"Jordan Weisman is once again the vanguard of that new form of narrative—Transmedia Storytelling. The enigmatic tapestry of characters and events slowly slips off the page, taking the reader with it into a mosaic of facts and clues that compel us to know the truth behind the murders of the accused: Martin Grace. So compelling is the journey between these precisely crafted symbiotic worlds, the reader may scarcely recognize their own transformation from passive to active, as they pick up where the text subsides and become the protagonist." —Gore Verbinski, Director

"The world may be black to Martin Grace, but he can peer deep into your soul, find where your fears slither, and make them sway like a snake charmer. Personal Effects is a rocking genre-mash that mixes mystery with psychodrama and serves it up in a high-bandwidth torrent of terror." —Scott Sigler, author of Infected and the hit podcast novel Earthcore

"J.C. Hutchins delivers another mind-ripping story that shakes the foundations of reality. In the creation of Martin Grace he offers a richly complicated catalyst for events that keeps writhing the reader on a deadly twisted hook that won't let go. Don't worry about the lap bar. It won't save you from screaming on this ride." —Patrick Lussier, director of White Noise 2, Dracula 2000, and editor of the Scream trilogy, Halloween: H20, The Eye, and Red Eye

"Personal Effects: Dark Art was impossible to put down and almost as hard to pin down. A twisted descent into the mind of a serial killer ... a supernatural thriller about a frightening and unfathomable evil that's as old as time ... a horrific tale of dark, unearthly secrets that bind ... and kill. "Zach Taylor is assigned to the mysterious case of psychiatric patient Martin Grace — a suspected serial killer with an airtight alibi for the murder he's accused of committing. Zach's search for the truth leads him, and the people he loves, into a terrifying world of dark secrets an ancient evil that threatens to consume them all. Terrifying, steeped in dread and populated with vibrant and complex characters, Personal Effects: Dark Art plunges you into a hidden world of supernatural intrigue. It's a journey you won't soon forget." —Jeffrey Reddick, writer of Final Destination

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594074120
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/9/2009
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

J.C. HUTCHINS created the podcast trilogy 7th Son, listened to by over 40,000 people with over a million total downloads. He lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida. To market Steven Spielgberg’s A.I., JORDAN WEISMAN conceived of a murder mystery played out across websites and through email messages, faxes, and voicemail boxes. The game had over three million participants and spawned the “alternate reality game” craze. In 2006, Weisman created Cathy’s Book, a novel accompanied by receipts, photos, and other clues leading to numbers and websites that took readers into a groundbreaking multimedia experience. Weisman lives in Bellevue, Washington.

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Read an Excerpt



If by some miracle I survive my twenties, I am certain I’ll look back on today and think, This was the day I began to lose my mind.

Today was the day I coasted into work, still high from last week’s breakthrough, my grin beating back the gloom of these crumbling halls … and was unceremoniously shoved into a living horror show, a knife-sharp shadowdance called The Life of Martin Grace. That moment, there—me striding through Brinkvale, punching in on the Depression-era time clock, greeting my coworkers—was when my perception of terra firma reality shifted. Just a nudge. But enough.

I am stone-cold certain that Lina Velasquez was a meth-addicted hummingbird in a past life. The woman is pulled tauter than piano wire. She’s all cat’s-eye glasses and waving arms, a nitro-fueled perpetual motion machine. Her voice is a nasal blur in the background on any typical day. I don’t know why sleepy Brinkvale needs an administrative assistant who’s so damned kinetic, but I suppose everyone has a place … and Lina was currently putting me in mine.


She was at her desk, behind the scratched, shatterproof window of the Administrator’s Office, perched on the edge of her antique swivel chair, phone receiver pinched between shoulder and cheek. She was typing on her computer keyboard with one hand. I blinked and stopped, peering in at her.

Already exasperated, she rapped on the window with her free palm. The rings on her fingers clack-clack-clacked, insistent.

I cringed. Total principal’s office flashback.

“In here, now,” Lina said. “Dr. Peterson. Urgent.”

“I have never been an “urgent” kind of guy, but I’m getting better at handling moments like this. Late last week proved that. Still, before landing this gig, the word wasn’t in the Zach Taylor vocabulary.

“Uh, what’s up?” I asked. I glanced past Lina to the doorway of Peterson’s dimly lit office. The old psychiatrist was at his desk, hunched over the scattered contents of an open manila folder. They glowed under an ancient gooseneck lamp. The septuagenarian’s desk was cluttered with towers of precariously stacked papers. My mind captured the moment in charcoal-sketch caricature: Doc Peterson, staring up at his own paperwork Tower of Pisa, cartoon hearts swirling around his bald head. I filed away the image, and tried not to grin.

“What?” I realized Lina had been talking. She pooched her lips and twitched them to the right. This was Lina’s nonverbal Venezuelan shorthand: Make your eyes follow my lips, make your feet follow your eyes.

I walked past her into the dark room, uneasy of its dimness. It smelled of old books and stale coffee. The fat metal blinds were drawn shut. Peterson glanced up from the contents of the folder. He gestured to a chair in front of his desk and offered me a smile framing yellowed dentures. I didn’t know if the man took pleasure in the act of smiling, but it didn’t appear that way. The desk lamp’s light glimmered in his saucer-sized spectacles.

My path rarely crossed with Peterson’s. Three months ago, he’d interviewed me for an hour, then abruptly offered me the job of staff art therapist.

“Brinkvale provides a more, ah … positive … environment than you might imagine from the stories,” he’d said as I left his office that day. Since our little chat, I hadn’t spent more than five minutes with the guy. We’ve done the smile-and-nod bit in the halls ever since.

To hear the saltier veterans of the hospital talk, that’s a good thing. They often suggest that the years here have put fractures of the larger-than-hairline variety in Peterson’s sanity. He’s known colloquially as the Madman in the Attic—“the attic” being the first floor of this building.

They don’t call us Brinkvale employees Morlocks for nothing.

The old man’s owl eyes blinked at me, that wide grin still stretching his jowls. I smiled back and sat on the edge of the black vinyl chair, a blocky thing that was at least a decade my senior. “Hi, Dr. Peterson.”

I shifted position in an attempt to see Peterson’s face over the preposterous stacks of papers. I tried not to picture cartoon hearts over his head.

“It’s a pleasure to have you in again, Zachary,” he said. Peterson’s voice had the distinctive lilt of the overeducated; each word clearly enunciated, starched and pressed. He nodded at a comparatively small pile of papers beside the folder.

“I read your report,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”

“From Friday?” I asked. “Spindle?”

Peterson gave a dry chuckle, and shook his head.

Spindler. Gertrude Spindler. That is the patient’s name, Zachary.”

Maybe that was her name now. And maybe it had been her name for the first fifteen years of her life. But Gertie Spindler was “Spindle” for the dark era in between. She was calling herself Spindle when I met her a month ago and, in my mind, that’s who she’ll always be. Her lifelong obsession with strings, thread, fabric and patterns would have been merely eccentric had it not been for the secrets she’d been hiding with them. Hiding in them.

When you can see where the literal bodies are buried by matching swatches that were sewn into two quilts at either end of a decade, you’ve found a person so far gone, she can call herself anything she likes.

But not completely gone. Not last week, at least.

“Spindler,” I agreed, nodding nervously. “Thanks. She’d been telling her story for years. I guess she just needed the right person to listen.”

Peterson’s smile spread. That yellow half moon was so unnatural on his doughy face, it seemed predatory. This is what a grocery store lobster must see, I thought, right before it’s yanked from the tank. I shifted in my chair. The vinyl creaked.

“You have a lot of empathy for your patients,” he said, tapping the file. “You tend to become unusually invested in their lives, and their therapy.”

I flushed. Oh, hell. I knew this moment. I hated this moment. I’ve lived this moment a dozen dozen times in the past decade, in jobs, relationships, art projects, pet projects. This is how I’m wired. I fall in love with things, projects, people, even if just a little bit. I have to, in order to help them. To do anything less would be … well … I wouldn’t know how.

“You know, about that, Dr. Peterson—”

The old man cut me off with a wave of his hand. His lips slid into a more natural, dour expression.

“Zachary, we have all been where you are. I could say that passion ebbs with age and experience, but I doubt you would listen, so I won’t waste your time.”

I frowned, off-balance. Was I being criticized or not? Peterson glanced down at the folder before him. From my vantage, I spotted a Brinkvale admittance form, with more attachments than most. A CD-ROM was in there, too. Peterson closed the folder. He pressed two fingers against its surface and pushed it a few inches forward.

“You are here because you are precisely what I need: bright and gifted at what you do,” he said. “Your methods of connecting with patients are quite unconventional, but your success rate has been notable.”

“I work from my gut,” I said. “I don’t know what’s so unconventional about that.”

Peterson tapped the stack of papers again. “Your first month here, you used a cassette ‘mixtape’ provided by Leon Mack’s daughter to usher him out of a nigh-catatonic mute state. Last month, it was a rabbit’s foot keychain that facilitated closure for Evan Unwin in the death of his infant son. Yesterday, it was needle and thread.”

My frown slid further southward. “Dr. Peterson, art therapy provides opportunities for insight for both the patient and the therapist, and—”

“Of course,” he interrupted. “But even more important is your willingness to embrace your patients as people. That’s what I need right now.” He tapped the folder. “This case is yours, and it takes priority.”

I reached for the file. His hand did not move.

“You’ll be expected to follow up with your other patients, of course; we are spread far too thin to give you a reprieve. But I imagine you knew that.”

The understatement of the millennium. I nodded.

“I also imagine you wouldn’t want to forsake those other patients,” he said. “We’re all committed to quality care here at The Brink.”

His lips tugged upward into another smile, this one conspiratorial. The chief administrator had just committed the ultimate in-house faux pas. New employees learn two things their first day in this hole: where the toilets are, and that you never, ever call this place anything but Brinkvale Psychiatric in the presence of management.

He picked up the folder with a trembling hand and held it out to me. It bobbed in his hand, a boat floating over the sea of paperwork.

“Martin Grace. His transfer came down from County last night. He’s due in city court in less than a week. It is a murder trial, and Grace is the gentleman with whom the district attorney’s office has its grudge. He’s also the prime suspect in eleven other deaths. You will engage the patient, and deduce in the days ahead if he is psychologically fit for trial. Consider it a bonus if he confesses that he consciously, willfully killed Tanya Gold and those other people and deserves imprisonment … or another method of justice. This time next week, I expect to read your conclusions.”

I felt my lips moving, heard my voice before I knew what I was saying.

“What if he’s innocent?” I asked.

Peterson’s forehead crinkled as his gray eyebrows rose above his glasses. He glanced around in the dimness, at the walls. His smile didn’t falter.

“Zachary. He wouldn’t be here if he was innocent.”

I felt a bit sick as I accepted the folder. The thing felt cold in my hand.

Peterson’s expression suddenly brightened, and his voice became dismissive, perfunctory.

“I suggest you take the morning to review the file,” he said. “Conduct short sessions with your other patients after lunch. Then introduce yourself to Mister Grace. Leave the paint brushes and pencils in your office, if you please.”


“Because Martin Grace is blind.”

Copyright © 2009 by Smith & Tinker, Inc. All rights reserved. Manufactured in China. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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