L.A. Mental: A Thriller

L.A. Mental: A Thriller

by Neil McMahon


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“As much a mind game as it is thriller, a scientific puzzle buried in a murder mystery, all set against the surreal world of Hollywood filmmaking. . . . I can’t wait for the next book!”—James Rollins

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. Fans of science-tinged suspense from authors like Patrick Lee, William Gibson, and Greg Bear, will thrill for L.A. Mental’s taught, high-stakes story of one man’s accidental immersion in an underworld he never knew existed—one which will require every last reserve of his intelligence, ruthlessness, and cunning to escape.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061340789
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/27/2011
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Neil McMahon holds a degree in psychology from Stanford and was a Stegner fellow. He has published ten novels, in addition to the bestselling thriller Toys, coauthored with James Patterson. He lives in Missoula, Montana, where his wife directs the annual Montana Festival of the Book.

What People are Saying About This

James Rollins

“Neil McMahon’s L.A. MENTAL is as much a mind game as it is thriller, a scientific puzzle buried in a murder mystery, all set against the surreal world of Hollywood filmmaking. Blurring genres and expectations, this is a book that challenges and thrills in equal parts.”

James Patterson

“L.A. Mental caught my interest immediately and held it until the last page. A very cool concept beautifully executed.”

Michael Moore

“Sure storytelling and elegant writing…. An intoxicating blend of psychology, mind control, physics and movies, leavened with the more familiar plot devices of money, sex and power.”

Andrew Schneider

“McMahon offers up a killer so cutting edge and secretly lethal that I’m sure that Homeland Security believes he got into their intelligence files. . . . Twist after turn of wonderfully crafted words.”

Michael Koryta

“With L.A. Mental, Neil McMahon heads into the territory of William Gibson in a fast-moving, compelling tale that’s a blend of detective novel and might-just-be-possible science fiction, sure to leave readers hungry for more.”

Jason Kehe

“[A] punchy, potent genre mash-up-part thriller, part mystery, a pinch of sci-fi-about a Los Angeles on the verge of a mental breakdown.”


Behind L.A. Mental by Neil McMahon

A certain amount of paranoia, I've come to believe, is a healthy survival instinct, and I practice what I preach. My old friend Jim Crumley (author of the iconic detective novel The Last Good Kiss—if you haven't read it, you're missing a real pleasure) once told me that I had the right to write thrillers because I was the most spooked-out person he'd ever known.

Paranoia can also be a great tool for a writer. I think it's safe to say that thrillers are largely driven by fear of some sort, which pervades the characters' lives (and keeps the reader turning pages). The novels often focus on a particular kind of fear (with numerous gradations, variations, and combinations): for instance, up-close-and-personal (as in: "Whoa!—is this charming stranger I just jumped into bed with really the slasher who's been all over the news?"); the larger-but-contained scale (terrorists on the brink of taking out hostages, who usually include the President and/or the head cop's squeeze); and the all-out panic of a major disaster (ticking nuclear bomb, pandemic disease, alien invasion).

My own earlier novels tend toward the first end of that spectrum, deriving their tension and suspense largely from a sense of immediate personal danger to the characters. But looking back on my books (I've never really thought about this before), I can see a gradually increasing focus on a more widespread brand of peril (sinister genetic manipulation in Blood Double, domestic terrorism in Revolution No. 9).

L.A. Mental then makes a much bigger jump in that direction, and also to outright paranoia as the major driving force behind the developments in the increasingly dangerous life of the main character, Tom Crandall. The threat at the heart of the novel is an enormous one, potentially affecting everyone on the planet, and it's peculiarly insidious—secret mass mind control via the new, mushrooming, and some might say, out-of-control science of nanotechnology. And in keeping with another tradition of the paranoia sub-genre, Tom Crandall is the only one who's aware of it.

There's no single clear-cut answer to why I took on this new subject, but rather, several factors were involved. As I mentioned, I'd already made forays in this direction, so in a sense it was a natural progression. Around the time I started work on the book, another great friend, ace journalist Andrew Schneider, was researching the nano-revolution and put it on my radar. The possibilities there seemed striking (even alarming) enough to warrant writing about. I was already interested in mind-control research, and had a smattering of knowledge about resonance theory. All that came together slowly, with the story evolving in layers and continually demanding new elements as I tried to integrate the existing ones. Eventually, after a long mix of finessing and bludgeoning things into shape, I had what I felt was a workable plot.

But I'll note one crystallizing moment. Like Tom Crandall in the novel, I've spent a fair amount of time (informally) observing vultures. When the idea hit me to bring them into the story, a scene flashed into my mind as clear as lightning—Tom on a ridgetop, covertly watching the twisted genius Gunnar Kelso in the meadow below with a microwave transmitter, controlling a flock of buzzards overhead like drone airplanes. From that point on, the nanotech aspect took on a life of its own.

While much of the information I present is factual, I hasten to admit that the scenario itself is largely pseudo-science. But there's no doubt that mind-control research is very much a reality that's been going on for decades, especially since the Cold War. (If you're curious, go online and check out CIA programs like MK-ULTRA and HAARP. There's plenty of unsettling information available, and you can bet there's a whole lot more that's not available. Tom elaborates on these, and related, points in the novel.)

To bring this back around, I'll close by saying that writing this piece has made me realize (with a touch of pride) that my paranoia has grown with the job, from the modest scope of my early efforts, to the threat of mankind being mentally enslaved by subliminal commands from unseen masters.

And arguably the most frightening thing about this hypothetical scenario is that it would be difficult or impossible for us even to know if it were becoming a reality.

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L.A. Mental: A Thriller 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
suetu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Pseudoscientific snake oil¿ in LalawoodHaving 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.
gloriafeit More than 1 year ago
Is there something in the air in LA? [Other than the usual, that is.] For something is suddenly causing unusual, and unusually aggressive, behavior, much of it lethal. Neil McMahon’s new novel starts with three LA Times headlines, each a month apart: “Bizarre Rampage Leaves Judge in Critical Condition;” “Accused Celeb Heiress in Pool Accident;” and “CalTech Tragedy Saddens, Disturbs,” this last after a graduate student runs onto a freeway and is struck by more than one vehicle and killed. It appears that nearly 40 such incidents had been reported over the past year, with many more not having made the papers or other media. But when psychologist Tom Crandall’s brother jumps from a Malibu cliff, although he survives the fall, things obviously become much more personal; Tom has to try to find out what is going on. A faculty adjunct at a two-year community college, Tom is one of four siblings, all in their thirties, from a prominent and wealthy family, one that could be described as dysfunctional at best. He soon discovers that another brother, Paul, is financing a movie being made by a brilliant, albeit bizarre, Swedish physicist. That film is described as “a curious blend of elements, some traditional but modernized, and given a gloss of science that walked the edge of science fiction.” That same description could be applied to this novel. Paul has rented out a family property for the making of the film, and when Tom visits the scene he, as the reader, is unprepared for what he finds there. Full disclosure here: otherworldly, or even semi-otherworldly, doings are generally outside my comfort zone, my suspension of disbelief too greatly taxed thereby. And my mental abilities [no pun on the title intended] do not stretch to the worlds of physics, astrophysics, nanotechnology, or even science fiction. Admittedly I expected the plot triggers here to be off-putting. But I hasten to add that they were not, and I found myself intrigued, and challenged, by what the author has done here. It is an interesting, at times fascinating, and suspense-filled, tale, and one I recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
insurance More than 1 year ago
he should stick to Montana
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
To psychologist Tom Crandall it seems Los Angeles in going insane. A distinguished judge goes on a rampage an destroys his own home, a brilliant grad student from CalTech is killed while driving his car wildly through traffic, his own brother, Nick, calls him distressed claiming "his brain is being devoured by worms". Sadly as Tom tries to help his brother he can't stop him from throwing himself off a cliff into the Pacific ocean. Tom rescues him only to learn Nick doesn't remember a thing. The Crandalls are a very wealthy family. Tom seeming to be the most normal, Nick has been involved in some shady dealings, their sister Erica has her own problems and younger brother Paul is the business man of the family and is in charge of the family fortune. As Tom starts to investigate secrets come out and all the insanity seems to lead to a film company Parallax Productions and its director, a former physicist named Gunnar Kelso. Tom delves right into the middle of things to find some answers and what he discovers is absolutely mind boggling. Dollycas's Thoughts I knew this author from his previous work with James Patterson on the book TOYS so I knew he come up with some pretty out there ideas, but it did not prepare me for this. I wouldn't actually call it a thriller, it is more of a psychological study of madness. However, it is just as entertaining, but must be read carefully to capture ever nuance in this mind bending story. They are some really technical concepts that take away some of the drama by being too scientific. They are also some confusing elements as to setting and why certain people were affected and others not, but it is fiction, science fiction. Sometimes you need to just let go of reality and let the story take you on a journey. I was waiting for a real " a ha moment" and that doesn't happen. Like Patterson's quote says on the cover it is "a very cool concept", but if you pick this book thinking you are going to be reading a true thriller you will be disappointed. If you like sci-fi or futuristic type fiction this book is perfect for you. It is filled with the stuff that you spend nights dreaming about. It is also a book that will leave you contemplating just how much is really fiction. How much of this technology is already out there and can it be used for good and evil. McMahon has now shown me twice that he has quite an imagination, a sometimes scary imagination. What worries me is the actual research he did to come up with this "very cool concept" and how much is true and how much is imagined. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Harper. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of this book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
BaltimoreReads More than 1 year ago
Back in the day I used to love reading anything by "The Queen of Suspense," Mary Higgins Clark; I wouldn't move for hours as I got sucked into her fast-paced, thrilling mysteries and loved trying to guess the endings (though I was rarely successful). I essentially overdosed on thrillers and had to take a break for a few years, until I recently decided to pick up Neil McMahon's new book (published 9/27/11) L.A. Mental: A Thriller. I was in search of everything that a thriller should be - a quick read that would have me frantically turning the pages and telling myself, "Just one more chapter!" until the book was magically finished. Unfortunately, L.A. Mental did not meet any of these expectations. L.A. Mental is mystery meets sci-fi meets Hollywood meets a dozen other things that I could barely keep track of. It seemed as though the plot could have been cut into three or four different novels, each of which could have been beefed up and made into far more exciting and focused stories. The book's central character, Dr. Thomas Crandall, is thrust into a world of fear and confusion when his brother, Nick, calls him one night in desperate need of help. This culminates in a peculiar and dangerous encounter in which Crandall notices Nick is acting strange. Some sleuthing for answers takes him to the set of a movie that is being shot on the land of the Crandall family's Los Angeles mountain lodge, where Crandall encounters the peculiar scientist/director Gunnar Kelso, the seductive Cynthia Trask, movie-star beauty Lisa DiFurio, and other members of the cult-like company Parallax. Before long, Crandall is caught up in Parallax and its mysterious ways and must race to figure out who is behind the strange things that are happening before his family and friends, in addition to himself, are hurt or killed. Add in paternity tests, sex tapes, nanoparticles, "Gatekeepers," mind-reading, and a slew of other details, and you have yourself a book that is simply drowning in too many plotlines. McMahon leans heavily on explaining every little detail instead of letting readers figure things out on their own, which is frustrating for anyone who has read enough James Patterson or watched enough Law & Order to understand how thrillers work and what can be expected. Often times it seems that McMahon is over-explaining things for himself in addition to his readers, just to make sure he is keeping everything straight. The characters are hard to connect with because of the very "telling" method of writing that McMahon uses, and a lot of the dialogue and description comes off as contrived. In the moments when a "surprise" villain was unveiled, I was hardly surprised at all as the character's real motives were easy to spot pages beforehand. McMahon is an experienced mystery writer who even worked together with James Patterson on the thriller Toys, so he has obviously proven himself in the literary world. There were spurts of the book that were very well written and compelling, but they were very short-lived and rare. For a reader willing to give the thriller genre of books a chance, or for anyone who lives for suspenseful reads, L.A. Mental might not be the book to pick off the shelves. Check out BaltimoreReads on wordpress!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Southern California, the local media reports on several strange events over a few months. In February, the local headline news focuses on Municipal Court Judge Berthold trying to bash in his head as he destroys much of his affluent Santa Monica home. In March; Beverly Hills paparazzi favorite, former Miss California Pamela Dutton, acquitted of murdering her older wealthy spouse, lies in a coma. Finally in April, CalTech astrophysics graduate student Peter Janacek ran onto the Foothill Freeway committing suicide. Not long after people who seemed to have it together went berserk, in Malibu drug addict Nick Crandall tells his keeper brother psychologist Tom that worms are eating away his brain matter. He soon attacks Tom but falls off a cliff. As has been their recent relationship, Tom rescues Nick who is rushed to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Tom learns that their sister Rikki has been threatened through a DVD and their brother Paul is involved in the Parallax Productions movie; both tie back to Nick's odd behavior. Tom goes to the movie set where he encounters former Swedish physicist turned filmmaker Gunnar Kelso whose theories on human behavioral relationships focus on power. This is an exhilarating nano-technological thriller that grips readers from the moment Nick attacks Tom until the final exposé. The truth is frightening as it fails to set free Tom or readers when he (and we) begins to realize what is going on that has turned L.A. Mental. Filled with action without dumbing down the nanotechnology, readers will Neil McMahon's cautionary science fiction thriller. Harriet Klausner