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PSYCH WARD NOIR: DR. GATSKILL'S BLUE SHOES


Psych ward noir was a subgenre that popped up in the fifties. Characters, either voluntarily or involuntarily, placed in in a mental institution, often to uncover a truth, often ending up questioning their own sanity, were stories found in many books and films. They tapped into the growing interest and acceptance of psychoanalysis, cold war paranoia, and the underbelly of the Eisenhower era's bucolic veneer. Stark House Books unearthed one of these books, Dr. Gatskill's Blue Shoes by Paul Contant from 1952.


The story takes place both in a New York mental institution and in the mind of police detective Peter Hanly. Peter has the murder of a woman named Narcissa pinned to him and even he's not sure he's innocent. Two things are assisting his memory- Dr. Angela Gatskill. the psychologist assigned to him and injections of sodium amytal, a drug that clears the mind but creates more risks as the dosage is upped. Hanly struggles with Gatskill, pesiving together a case he worked in classic flashback fashion.


Contant mimbly moves between past and present. He use hanly's dialogue with Gatskill and the other doctors to go in and out of the past, helping create the ticking clock as his fellow cops build a case against him. It raises the possibilities of the cops being a part of it. Even Gatskill and institution staff also come under suspicion. Hanly can't even trust his mind

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Dr. Gatskill's Blue Shoes is a skillful and stylish read. You may question some of the psychiartry but not the storytelling. Contant works with a craftsman's precision with the timelines, keeping all of the plot plates spinning, and keeping us guessing. If only Sam Fuller go his hands on this for a movie.

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