Summary and book reviews of Death of a Thousand Cuts by Barbara D'Amato

Death of a Thousand Cuts

by Barbara D'Amato

Death of a Thousand Cuts
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2004, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2006, 400 pages

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Book Summary

The former residents of The Hawthorne House School for the Treatment of Autistic Children attend the first-ever reunion 15 years after the school closes, but events turn into a bloody nightmare when the school's founder is found tortured to death in the basement.

The first winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Barbara D'Amato has been widely praised for her engrossing novels of crime and suspense. Now she opens the case file on a singularly savage murder, set in a uniquely disturbing setting.

The Hawthorne House School for the Treatment of Autistic Children was once known for its pioneering educational approach and remarkable success rate. Now, fifteen years after this celebrated institution closed its doors for the last time, staffers and former residents have returned to Hawthorne House for its first-ever reunion. The gala event turns into a bloody nightmare when the school's revered founder, Dr. Jay Schermerhorn, is found tortured to death in the mansion's basement.

Teacher, healer, and bestselling author, Schermerhorn enjoyed a worldwide reputation for his innovative therapeutic methods and compassionate treatment of autistic children. How could anyone have hated him enough to kill him? As Chicago detectives probe deeply into the history of Hawthorne House, a troubling picture emerges--of a man who inspired both fear and hatred in the children and families who came to him for help.

Death of a Thousand Cuts is a provocative and compelling thriller that exposes the insidious evil behind a facade of false benevolence. Like Mary Higgins Clark or James Patterson, Barbara D'Amato offers up a gripping tale that will chill and captivate readers long into the night.

I.

The moment a man begins to question the meaning and value of life, he is sick.
- Sigmund Freud, 1937

Chapter One
Friday, July 14, 1995

Jeffrey Clifford sat in the passenger seat of his sister's Mazda, hesitating to open the door. He stared across the wide expanse of heat-seared lawn at Hawthorne House, the huge 19th century mansion looming fifty yards away. Walls of blood-red brick rose from a stone substructure, with three stories of narrow arched windows like squeezed eyes. There were gable eyebrows over the third-story windows. On top of each gable was a sharp wrought-iron point. A steep roof of black slate rose from the third floor. Along its peak ran a wrought-iron railing crest topped with alternating spear-points and balls. At the tip of the roof ends — there were four because the building was cross-shaped like a cathedral — iron lightning rods rose up, each ten feet tall. The five brick chimneys that also shared the roof were funnel-shaped, ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Set in Chicago during the heat wave of 1995, D'Amato's new stand-alone thriller draws the reader into the world of autistic children. The character of Dr Schermerhorn (the former director of the Hawthorne House School) is based on Bruno Bettelheim, who ran the Orthogenic School in Chicago and wrote many books on autism. His methods, roundly disproved today, were based on the belief that 'the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that the child should not exist'. In other words he believed, and convinced many others, that parents were to blame for their children's autism.

In essence this is a police procedural but the setting, complex characters and issues that the book raises set it way above the average.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews

Booklist - Connie Fletcher

D'Amato does a riff on paranoid thrillers like Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in this ingenious suspense procedural.

Kirkus Reviews

D'Amato (White Male Infant, 2002, etc.) offers a fascinating glimpse inside a world few novelists would have the sensitivity to explore, even though the persistent bashing of Bruno Bettelheim and Sigmund Freud will make the killer obvious even to amateur therapists.

Publishers Weekly

Wry humor and characters with real depth help propel the plot to its poignant conclusion. As the further reading list in her author's note suggests, D'Amato has thoroughly researched her subject, raising some strong arguments against Freudian theory and practice that reflect the current debate over Freud in the psychiatric community.

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The character of Dr Schermerhorn is based on Bruno Bettelheim, who ran the Orthogenic School in Chicago and wrote many books on autism. 

Bettelheim was born in Vienna in 1903.  As a Jew in Austria, he was interned in Dachau and Buchenwald from 1938-9.  His release was purchased (it was possible for some to purchase their release up until the outbreak of WWII) and he immediately emigrated to the United States, ending up at the University of Chicago where he headed the Orthogenic School.

His methods, roundly disproved today, were based on the belief that "the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent's wish that the child should not exist".  In other words he believed, and ...

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