Psycho: Sanitarium by Chet Williamson (St. Martin’s Press, April 2016) brings back Norman Bates and his mother, plus introduces a surprise sibling to complicate things. Readers are caught off guard when Norman discovers he has a twin brother named Robert Newman. Though separated at birth, Robert finally finds Norman locked up inside the psycho sanitarium, and Robert becomes a new and important part of Norman’s life.
Author Williamson does an admirable job of making demented Norman Bates a sympathetic protagonist. As one-by-one all the antagonists who torture Norman disappear, readers want to cheer and shout “good riddance.”
Instead of the Bates Motel, this sequel is set in the former Ollinger Sanitarium, now a state correctional facility for the criminally insane. Rampant rumors abound that the sanitarium is haunted. Dr. Adolph Ollinger, the original owner of the sanitarium, allegedly tortured and killed patients in a secret room in the sanitarium’s basement. Does the ghost of Dr. Ollinger, or one of his patients, haunt the psycho sanitarium?
Doctor Felix Reed is Norman’s psychiatrist, and Norman feels lucky to have such a protective and understanding therapist. Doctor Reed allows Norman and new-found brother Robert to meet secretly inside Norman’s padded cell. Reed escorts Robert into and out of the facility without the knowledge of Dr. Goldberg, the sanitarium’s draconian director, or the knowledge of other staff, including Nurse Marie Radcliffe.
Doctors have long suspected that schizophrenia, along with all its attendant co-morbid conditions, might be inherited from maternal bloodlines. If Norman Bates inherited his insanity from his mother, doesn’t it stand to reason that Norman’s brother Robert may also be insane? When inmates and staff who treat Norman badly begin to disappear, Norman suspects Robert may somehow be involved.
Norman’s mother knows the truth, but Dr. Reed has helped Norman banish Mother from Norman’s consciousness. After all, it was Mother who murdered all those people at the motel. Wasn’t it?
It seems everyone who lives or works at the sanitarium has skeletons hiding in their closets, and Norman may be the most normal person in the entire place. Not only does Williamson remake Norman into a sympathetic character, Norman seems at times almost heroic.
Psycho: Sanitarium is a worthy successor to Robert Bloch’s original storyline. Highly recommended.