This is less of a book review and more of a commentary:

I’ve just finished a novel called Strip Search by William Bernhardt, and it ties in rather neatly with the recent Supreme Court decision on whether or not Thimerisol can cause this condition. Since it has also been announced that there is a new genetic test which can determine a predisposition to the disorder, I thought to mention it here. The test, G-banded karyotype, can identify chromosomal aberrations and the X-genetic. CMA detects chromosomal abnormalities, making it the best available genetic test for autism spectrum disorders. Using the CMA test by itself has tripled the detection rate and it has been suggested that it be added to first-tier genetic testing for this disorder.

That’s good news for everyone and perhaps it will also help to bring about development of a cure or, if not that, at least a way to help those children stricken become more viable members of society and ease the grief, guilt, and dismay most families with autistic children experience.

How does this pertain to Strip Search? I’m sure you’re asking yourself that question about now. Simple, the “hero” of the novel is autistic.

Strip Search involves a homicide investigation, as seen through the eyes of two people:
Susan Pulaski and Darcy O’Bannion.

Susan is a Las Vegas police behaviorist. She’s recently lost her husband, David, an LV homicide detective. Everyone—David’s family, his partner, even Susan herself—blames her for David’s death. Susan still misses David, dreams about him, sometimes feels as if he’s in the room with her, and as a result, she’s wracked with guilt and remorse and has become an alcoholic. After months of detox and therapy, she’s slowly being eased back into work by LV Police Chief Robert O’Bannion whose son she befriended when the Chief was hospitalized after being shot. Susan’s relationship with the younger O’Bannion is an odd one and at one point, during a counseling session, the psychologist she is required to see obliquely asks if she intends to have an affair with the Chief’s son, and almost—but not quite—suggests it would be good for her if she did.

Susan is outraged but it make as her wonder about her relationship with Darcy, then and on other occasions.

Chief O’Bannion’s only child was named after the character in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, his father’s favorite author. Darcy O’Bannion is twenty-six, nine years younger than Susan. He’s also an austistic savant, diagnosed at the age of three. He is incapable of sensing irony or sarcasm, doesn’t understand jokes, dislikes physical contact, and is unable to distinguish facial features, relying on smell, clothes, and bodily movements to recognize people. Though able to care for his own daily needs and having a job at a local day-care center (Darcy likes children because they are most accepting than adults), he spends most of his time—when he’s not with Susan—at odds with his father. Because of his child-like manner of speaking, his eccentric way of looking at things, and his seeming innocence (though Darcy understands about evil and is cunning enough to escape alone from a killer) the Chief continues to treat him as an incompetent, trying to shield his son from a world where he thinks he can’t survive. Darcy wants to become a policeman, something Susan encourages, to his father’s dismay. His own take on his relationship with Susan is startling. He acknowledges he loves her though he admits he has no concept of love. He wants Susan to adopt him so he can escape his father’s stranglehold on his life. He seems to have a partial idea of what living with Susan would involve, though he admits he has no idea how to “do” sex, and probably wouldn’t like it anyway since it involves physical contact and he doesn’t like to be touched. Nevertheless, he thinks it would be nice to make a baby with Susan—apparently not exactly equating sex with that aspect—because he likes babies and he thinks it would make Susan happy. Except for the adoption part, Susan is unaware of this aspect of Darcy’s interest in her. Born with a photographic memory, his knowledge of facts helped Susan solve a particularly gruesome murder case, but all this does is make Chief O’Bannion force Susan to promise she won’t include his son in any more investigations. It is Darcy’s own attempts at becoming an independent person which lead directly to his involvement in the case narrated in Strip Search, bringing him face-to-face with a killer who uses math to choose his victims.

Part of the story is told from Darcy’s point of view, with stream-of-consciousness paragraph-long sentences in which he views himself as a computer, forcing himself to stop and reboot on occasion when he gets so overloaded with facts he can’t communicate. Those sections are an enlightening look at how an autistic person’s thought processes may actually work, revealing that behind the mass of facts, hidden behind the mask of indifference and incoordination is a person more intelligent in some ways than some of us will ever be. How he reaches out to other people only to be patronized or ignored because they don't understand hurts him, though he realizes why. Darcy knows he is difference; he also knows he's smarter than most. He just isn't certain how to compromise these two aspects into something other people than Susan will accept.

I found myself skipping parts of the story just to find Darcy's takes on the situations. The story itself follows the usual outline though its subject is unique, and even those who don’t like police procedurals or suspense/mysteries may enjoy reading Strip Search for the insights it gives into an autistic savant’s mind and character. For those who do like this type of mystery, it’s an exciting story, too, though the explanations of mathematical formulae went right over my head, providing I'm not a savant of any kind!

4 comments

  1. Mary Ricksen // March 18, 2010 at 1:58 PM  

    My beautiful young niece is autistic. But, she could never live on her own. She couldn't ever take care of herself. My sister will be the mother of a child bigger than she is, for the rest of her life. I worry about after that.
    Good luck and very courageous, to take on such a subject.

  2. Joelle Charbonneau // March 18, 2010 at 4:02 PM  

    My best friend has an autistic son. He is high functioning, but will continue to require care as he gets older. As much as I research and pay attention, I had no idea that there was any genetic tests for autism. Thanks for the post. This is interesting, if not heartbreaking, information. (And the book sounds very interesting, too.)

  3. Mary Marvella // March 18, 2010 at 7:44 PM  

    Thought provoking post, Toni. Well-done.

  4. Judy // March 19, 2010 at 10:11 AM  

    Wow! There's a lot I don't know about autism. This was very thought-provoking, enough to make me do more research on it. Thanks for posting this...