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.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|File size:||1 MB|
About 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.
J.C. Hutchins created the podcast trilogy 7th Son, listened to by over 40,000 people with over a million total downloads. The books Personal Effects and 7th Son: Descent were published by St. Martin's. He lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
Personal Effects: Dark Art
By J.C. Hutchins, Jordan Weisman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Smith & Tinker, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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."CHAPTER 2
I don't remember much after leaving Peterson's office. I hope I appeared nonchalant as I performed my morning ritual: waving to nurses and orderlies, stopping at the break room to pour bitter, nearly burned coffee into my extra-large ceramic mug, working my way past doctors' and record keepers' offices to The Brink's sole, ancient elevator.
This didn't feel right. I hadn't yet read any of Martin Grace's admittance papers, but I didn't need to know his story to know I wasn't the guy who should be talking to him. The people I work with at The Brink aren't heading to trial. They're never players in an unfolding criminal case. My people — my patients, as Peterson would say — have either been convicted and need solace and treatment, or they're here because they're ill and have nowhere else to go. If you're at The Brink, you're at the end of the line. Only dead-enders need apply.
Make no mistake: I'm good at what I do, which is convince crazy people to express themselves with art. The pay is for shit, and this place is rock-bottom, but I'm making a small difference in this world, one misunderstood person at a time, and I find some peace in that. I try to save people through art, because art saved me. Giddy-giddy, as Anti-Zach would say.
So while flattered by Peterson's assignment on a certain level, I was also confused. Why would Peterson ask me, the proverbial new guy, to take this case? Enthusiasm, I got. Real-world life-and-death experience, not so much. And what in the hell was Grace doing here, in the ass-end of New York City's public mental health system, anyway? Multiple homicides perpetrated by a blind man — and they pick me? I felt like Bogey in Casablanca: "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world ..."
Looking up, I realized I'd made my way to the elevator. I jabbed the metal "down" button and waited for the wheezing, hydraulic box to lurch to the surface.
I jerked sideways at the clap of a hand on my shoulder, nearly spilling my coffee. I turned around and faced a chest wider than a tree trunk. A name tag, yellowed and scuffed from abuse, met me at eye level. EMILIO.
I'm five-ten and change, but being in Emilio Wallace's presence makes me feel like a member of the Lollipop Guild. I stared up at his square jaw. In a former life, Emilio had been a semi-famous pro wrestler on the Southwest circuit. If the comic book hero Superman were real, he'd use Emilio as his sans spit curl stunt man. That resemblance allowed him to play ironic villainous heavies during his wrestling career, like George "Super" Badman, Samson "Man of Steal" Kent, and my personal favorite: Maximillian von Nietzche, the Ubermensch.
These days, Emilio is a Brinkvale security guard, known for pulling as many hours of overtime as the law will allow in order to fund a very personal artistic work-in-progress. Emilio grinned down at me, displaying where most of his paychecks went: a mouthful of ruler-straight, toothpaste-commercial-white teeth ... and a rogue gap here and there, the result of one folding chair to the face too many at the end of his former career.
Another unfortunate side effect of his days in the entertainment biz: mentally, the man's a half-bubble off plumb. He's got a thing for conspiracy theories and alien abduction stories. Hell, he believes vampires and werewolves are real.
Of course, maybe he's always been that way. Par for the course, here at The Brink. We work with what the Lord provides.
"Yo, Z," Emilio said. His voice was deep and low, an idling semi truck engine. "Just another manic Monday, yeah?"
"Right on, yeah," I replied. "You got any big plans tonight? Xbox with the boys?"
Emilio shook his head. "I see 'em next week. Got the new Madden. It's gonna be killer."
I nodded at this. I hadn't played a video game since college. My girlfriend Rachael was the gamer in my home. She played enough for the both of us — and probably the rest of the East Village, too.
"Clocking in some serious OT this week," Emilo continued. "New rooster in the coop. Blind dude. Spooky as hell."
My stomach tensed at this. The whine of the elevator was growing louder; it was almost topside.
"Spooky?" I said.
Emilio's blue eyes widened. "As hell," he affirmed. "Rolled in last night. I was there, took him to his digs in Max. He was mumbling to himself, those chains on his ankle cuffs scraping on the floor. Dude was like that Scrooge ghost, Bob Marley."
Jacob Marley, I thought, but I didn't correct him.
The elevator doors groaned open. Emilio and I waited for Malcolm Sashington, Brinkvale's omnipresent janitor, to roll out his mop bucket before we entered. Malcolm tipped us a salute as the doors began to close. I returned the gesture.
Emilio smacked the button for my level, 3, and then another for himself. Level 5. Maximum security.
The elevator began to slide downward, into The Brink.
"The guy is a panther," he was saying. "All coiled up. Didn't say anything to me until I got him in his room. Asked me if there was a camera watching him. Asked me if there was a chair. Asked me if the lights were on."
Yes on all counts, I knew.
"So he's blind, right?" Emlio said, grinning again. "He shouldn't care if the lights are on or off. But he tells me to turn 'em off when I leave and lock up. I'm like, 'Saving taxpayers' money?' He says no. Says the buzzing of the lights bothers him."
"Weird," I said, and meant it. The sound of florescent lights annoys me, too. Their constant hmmm reminds me of flies in a jar, and puts me on edge. But patient dorms don't have fluorescent lights. In fact, I couldn't think of any room in the place with florescent lights. When it comes to state funding, The Brink is as popular as the drunk uncle at the family reunion.
This meant Grace thought he could hear the hum of the incandescent bulbs.
"Yep, that's what I said, weird," Emilio agreed. "Dude asked me a bit about my family, the boys, then told me to scram. He switched on and off, just like those lights. Tough cookie." He gave me another nudge. "Pity the fool who's gotta crack that nut, huh?"
I took a sip of my coffee. I didn't know what to say.
Excerpted from Personal Effects: Dark Art by J.C. Hutchins, Jordan Weisman. Copyright © 2009 Smith & Tinker, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
You will not be able to put this book down. J.C. is a masterful story teller and his lastest work is no exception. Its a creep fest edge of your seat book like no other.
Just this morning I finished a book that has paved new ground in literary history. The book is Personal Effects: Dark Arts by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman. I've been a fan of J.C.'s work for some time as he successfully podcast a wonderful action/adventure/thriller trilogy called 7th Son, which he completed in 2007. Personal Effects is the first "dead-tree edition" of one of J.C.'s works. Based on a concept by Jordan Weisman, it is an excellent novel. If supernatural thrillers are your thing, then this book is for you. What really sets this apart is the experience away from the page. Yep, there's an experience to be had here separate from the book. The book has a built-in envelope that contains several items, or personal effects. These include authentic looking plastic ID and credit cards, birth certificates, death certificates, photos, and more. (If you want to see the items, J.C. has several "unboxing" videos on his site.) Many of these items are directly referenced in the text, but they can also contain clues that you can use elsewhere. Elsewhere? Phone numbers are sprinkled throughout the book and personal effects, including the cell phone number for the main character right on the cover. These are real phone numbers, with recordings from the characters. During the course the book pin numbers are referenced, and you can use these to listen to voice mail messages that add more depth to the story between the covers. Likewise, there are websites for you to explore. Some come from the novel itself, others from the personal effects. For example I took an e-mail address from one of the included personal effects and went to the website for that domain, then used information from the novel to hack in and read hidden documents. I'm not usually much of a puzzle guy, but I enjoyed searching websites and voice mails for clues and information kept secret by characters and organizations from the book. In fact, even though I've finished the book I'm still planning on doing some more digging because I know I haven't found everything. There are a few of the included documents that still have a story to tell. Even though I've finished the novel, I don't want the experience to end. But when all is said and done, it's a book, right? Even on its own it is a great read. I tend to use the term "critical mass" to describe when a book reaches the point where I can't put it down until I finish it. Not every book achieves this level of interest, but Personal Effects did. In fact the only reason I didn't finish it before bed last night was because I was literally so tired I was unable to keep my eyes open. But the first thing I did this morning was to finish the book. If you want to check out J.C.'s writing without spending a dime, he is currently podcasting Personal Effects: Sword of Blood, a novella that takes place days before the events in the novel. Same characters, same settings, but a story totally unrelated to the main events in Dark Art. So as you can tell I heartily recommend Personal Effects: Dark Art, and I encourage you to buy a copy. You'll be helping out a new novelist, and get yourself a great read. In addition to everything I mentioned above, it is a beautiful package with interesting artwork throughout the book. With all the extras included, the $24.95 list price is quite a deal. And remember the name J.C. Hutchins. The 1st book in the 7th Son trilogy will be published in the fall
Loved the IDEA of the multi-media approach, but the ACTUAL story made little sense. It was difficult to understand with Zac what was going on for real and what was going on inside his head. It was so confusing, I still don't understand what happened and unfortunately don't care enough to go back and figure it out. And what was all that "giddy giddy" stuff about? In fairness, though, I am 50 and have passed this on to my 22-year-old son who is into the horror genre. I'm interested to see what his reaction is. Maybe it's a generational thing.
JC Hutchins is amazing! Can't wait for his next novel!
I'm having a hard time believing that so many people thought that this was a good book. "Creepy"? ""Compelling"? Some readers have compared this to Robin Cook and Tom Clancy books - and I say, "A far cry from Tom Clancy or Robin Cook." This book didn't scare me in the least. The personal effects that came with the book didn't play as big a role in the story or mystery as I had hoped them to play (although I thought that this was a pretty cool aspect of the book). I thought that the plot was scattered, and the characters poorly developed (if Zach gushed about his inked woman one more time I might have been sick). The author's descriptions of the "Dark Man" were repetitive, annoying, just plain blah. I mention this in particular because so many people found this book "scary" and this is the only place in the book that I found potential for scariness. I dunno - I thought that it was a big waste of $24.95 - and it's not even good enough to read a second time.
Great story and excellent "out-of-book" experience! This is much more than just a book. The author offers loads of additional content on his website (www.jchutchins.net) where he personally addresses and interacts with the readers. Personal Effects: Dark Art is one part story, one part interactive game, and one part community. Anyone who likes thriller, horror, or mystery novels will love Personal Effects: Dark Art. I am so glad I bought a copy and think that you will be too.
Well, I suppose some people won't like what I write here, but then the other reviews here seem to be from hard-core J.C. Hutchins fans - someone I've never heard of before. I'll just begin by NOT giving a summary of the book; other reviewers as well as the professional editors have given enough of an intro to the book that I'm not going to waste my time with it. I was browsing at my Barnes and Noble and found this book on a table and HAD to check it out. I love horror and mystery novels and I was intrigued by the concept of the "personal effects" aspect of this book. I just love a puzzle and after reading the first three chapters of the book, I went on an all-out, in-depth analysis and investigation of the personal effects - checking out the websites, calling the phone numbers, and just carefully reading the documents that came with the book. Though I had hoped for more of a game/puzzle challenge here, I enjoyed being able to put the pieces of a mystery together by myself! I was pretty thrilled by this! Unfortunately, that's where the thrill ended. I continued to read the book - waiting for more clues, more depth and got zip! This truly seemd like a "sophomore" attempt at a novel (perhaps even a "freshman" attempt - yikes!); this is one of the most poorly written novels I've ever read. For those who read the mystery and horror genres, this will amount to being a novel that you want to throw out on your next yard sale for 25 cents. I found the plot to be poorly developed and the random inclusion of details that are not essential to the plot, distracting. I didn't find this book to be engaging, compelling or even "creepy" as some reviewers have claimed. It just fell flat for me. I was especially frustrated by parts of the book where the characters (Zach and his Tribe) came to conclusions about certain other people (ex: father and Sophronia) without enough evidence or details presented to the reader to make the conclusions even logical! I guess that maybe I will have to check out this author's podcast novels because I really don't understand how anyone can praise this book. Perhaps it would be a better read if I was familiar with the author's previous work, but as a cold read - nada. I'm giving it two stars for the personal effects aspect - loved that part. I just wish that the personal effects had been used in such a way as to enrich the reading experience. But the writing was so awful, that I feel it would have taken a truckload of personal effects to compensate for it. I'm really bummed that I spent $25 on this.
AMAZING! That's what I consider JC Hutchins. I followed JC though the tremendous adventure of his 7th son series, a magnificent trilogy. Now his new novel Personal Effects: Dark Art has completely blown me away. To start, I have been unknowingly following one of the characters from JC's new novel on twitter for some time now. Then after reading the book, I find out that pixelvixen707 (Rachael Webster) is not even a real person, but a character from his novel! I was completely oblivious to that fact, such genius! I have immensely enjoyed reading PE:DA. I found myself completely immersed in the life of Zach Taylor and his work at the "Brink". I've also had great fun on the Internet and on the cell phone following up on and chasing down answers to the clues held within the book and those contained in personal effects material that are included with the book. I can tell you this, once you've been pulled into the PE:DA world you'll be nervously looking over your shoulder, be startled and have your hair stand on end when hearing little eerie noises in the night, find yourself avoiding the shadows and sleeping with the lights on! If you still questions after all these recommendations, check out the Vlurbs (video blurbs) at JC's Website. JC together with Michael Bekemeyer, they have created some rather creepy previews that movie studios wish they could have come up with. I mean, if the book makes the father of Jason Vorhees not want to go to sleep at night, how could PE:DA be something you'd not want to read! Oh yes and thanks to JC, I AM AFRAID OF THE DARK!