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Dennis McCort

"Duncan" is a psychosexual thriller about a young boy, his stuffed-toy gorilla (title character) and a pedophiliac serial killer named Samuel Clause, a.k.a. “Santa,” who happens to be a gifted jazz bass player. The novel has two strands: one, itinerant, that follows Santa from gig to gig on his depraved odyssey, raping and killing his way up the East coast to Canada; the other, homebound, in upstate Syracuse, focusing on the Driscoll family, Mark, Julie and their son Nate, as they struggle to come to terms with mother Julie’s quadriplegia in the wake of a horrific auto accident. The reader’s adrenalin rush comes from the suspense that builds to fever pitch as the two strands approach each other for the inevitable confrontation. All of this is heightened by the mystery of Duncan, who is not only Nate’s beloved toy companion but becomes a kind of family protector totem, and, in the novel’s climax, so much more. Depth of character psychology enhances the reading experience: the college-educated Santa’s self-serving misreading of Nietzsche’s philosophy and aspects of Zen Buddhism to rationalize his atrocities; his perverse relationship to jazz, particularly Miles Davis’s “So What?”; Nate’s ordeal with a school bully, a trial that will stand him in good stead in the book’s horrific denouement; Julie’s feelings of inadequacy and her reliance on Freudian theory and meditation for solace and support in the crisis of her paralysis; the paradox of Mark’s profound guilt over his affair with his beautiful teaching assistant, Sabrina: sexual release merely tightens the moral and psychological bonds; and, above all, Santa himself, whose sharp intelligence only aids and abets his evil compulsion, enabling him to rationalize the unspeakable. "Duncan" is a novel not only for readers addicted to thrill rides and maddening suspense, but also those who are curious about the abnormal psychology of the pedophiliac killer. The book gives food for thought as well as a kind of perverse satisfaction for the imagination and senses. It is a thinking reader’s thriller.About the AuthorAuthor Dennis McCort (1941-) was born and raised in Hoboken, New Jersey, the „mile square city“ on the Hudson, in the shadow of Manhattan. He writes of his experiences growing up there in the postwar industrial era before gentrification in his book, "A Kafkaesque Memoir: Confessions from the Analytic Couch" (PalmArt Press). McCort is now retired from Syracuse University in upstate New York where he taught German language and literature over a long career. He has authored literary studies on German and Swiss writers and on the influence of Zen Buddhism on such Western writers as J.D. Salinger, R.M. Rilke and Thomas Merton. His understanding of Zen, both as scholar and practitioner, i.e., from both outside and inside, helped him to add layers of complexity to the fascinating personality of the pedophiliac protagonist of Duncan. McCort has also written a comic novel, titled "The Man Who Loved Doughnuts," about a young professor who fails to get tenure at his upstate university and spends a lost weekend in lower Manhattan. It is available as an Amazon Kindle eBook. "Duncan" is his novelization of a macabre seed-concept coming from his wife Dorothy: that of a serial pedophiliac murderer on a collision course with a boy whose only defense is a stuffed toy gorilla. They both describe the book as a “thinking man’s thriller.”

Plot/Idea: 6 out of 10
Originality: 6 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 6.50 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Duncan offers a deeply intriguing story that blends storylines into a single narrative. One thread focuses on the Driscoll family as they struggle to move forward following a tragic accident. The other, highly disturbing thread centers on a sexual sadist who targets children.

Prose: McCort writes vividly and delivers dynamic storytelling. While the two primary narrative threads are effective independently, it becomes jumbled in its execution.

Originality: The combination of alternating viewpoints from the Driscoll family to Santa moves the story along in a unique manner; the addition of the stuffed gorilla is particularly original. 

Character/Execution: While the narrative focused on the sinister character of Samuel Clause is unique, readers may ultimately feel more invested in the saga of the Driscoll family. Throughout the book, many of the characters experience a good deal of growth. Readers will be especially invested in Mark Driscoll's character as he works to support his wife while also grieving a relationship that once was.

Date Submitted: August 25, 2023