Andrew Gross drew on a personal story for the main theme of this thriller which will hit home with any reader who knows anyone coping with the loss of a child. A sad author’s note explains the impetus for the story that inspired Eyes Wide Open.
Two brothers have taken divergent trails in life. Jay Erlich is a successful surgeon with two great kids and a wife he still loves after twenty years. Jay and Kathy are celebrating that milestone anniversary on the east coast when a call comes from California that will have Jay flying across country on a wild odyssey. His only nephew, Evan, has been found at the bottom of a cliff, an apparent suicide.
Evan Erlich had inherited his parents bipolar disease from Jay’s older brother, Charlie, and his wife, Gabby. Charlie had always been the the wayward child, a true sixties rebel, and at one time associated with a group whose cult behavior led Charlie to flee.
When Jay arrives to comfort his brother and sister-in-law, he is outraged that this troubled youth was released from a mental health facility only a few days after a violent outburst. The small halfway facility he was sent to seems inappropriate for the state with the boy was in, and Jay tries to bring justice for Evan by going to the press and interviewing the coroner’s detective who is ready to stamp the boy’s death a suicide.
But things quickly start to unravel and Jay finds himself increasingly convinced that Evan’s death might be a murder. He delays returning home in an effort to convince Detective Sherwood that there is more to Evan’s case than a trouble youth launching himself to his death, and he begins to suspect that Charlie’s involvement with the cult is at the bottom of it all.
Russell Houvnanian’s charisma had led to a nightmare of multiple murders decades before on the scale of Charles Manson; the man and several of his accomplices remain in jail. After Sherwood and Jay visit Houvnanian in a maximum security prison, evidence mounts that leads them to suspect cult disciples are operating in their leaders name. It soon becomes clear to Jay that the monster’s influence is still felt in the outside world as people associated with Charlie start to die, one by one.
This is a chilling page turner with a relentless pace, as Jay keeps postponing his return home, to the chagrin of his wife and his colleagues. There is a tough emotional component, too, as Jay makes the connection between his father’s life, Charlie’s, and Evan’s, and realizes it is just a trick of fate that he has not inherited the same bipolar illness. He also finds the overarching reach of a maniac will go years into the past and threaten his own future.
Gross gives us Jay’s point of view in first person and several of the other main characters, including Det. Sherwood, in third, an effective device that brings the action close to the reader as we experience the unraveling of the story through Jay’s frustration and increasing suspicions.
Nelson DeMille notes Eyes Wide Open “should be read with the lights on and the door closed. A rare and menacing psychological thriller that works on every level.”
This is a frightening study of the power of evil to affect generations.