You don't need a Ph.D. to notice that this first novel by a Los Angeles-based psychologist shows all the symptoms of becoming a blockbuster. Part Fatal Attraction, part Disclosure, it is the story of Dr. Sarah Rinsley, a therapist whose patient Nick Arnholt becomes obsessed with her; when she rejects his sexual advances, he devises a way to destroy both Dr. Rinsley's professional reputation and her sanity.
It would be unfair to a page-turner like this to divulge any of Nick's strategies or any of the issues in Dr. Rinsley's life that cause her to continue to treat him. But for a book that requires readers to have some sympathy for the concept and process of psychotherapy, it is extremely fair. Dr. Rinsley—while an earnest and honorable professional—is not an irreproachable good guy and Nick is not entirely bad.
The plot is further embroidered with interesting supporting characters, a few affectionately drawn loopy patients and Sarah's difficult but loving parents. Comfort even manages to keep us wondering, for much of the book, just how and when Nick and Sarah's perverse relationship will end.
Unfortunately, it ends Hollywood-style, with both Sarah and Nick surviving more or less intact. Would that Comfort had had the nerve to stick to the edgy tone and complicated characters that otherwise define this engaging, twisted game. (Simon & Schuster, $22)