The Psychoanalyst: Summary, characters, reviews and more

The Psychoanalyst is a work by John Katzenbach, published in 2002; it is a novel of suspense and psychology, one of the best known by the American writer. It tells the story of a psychoanalyst who has fifteen days to find the author of a letter that will make his life impossible.

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Summary of The Psychoanalyst

The Psychoanalyst is a novel of suspense and psychology, which tells the story of what Doctor Frederick Starks goes through after receiving a threatening letter telling him that he must commit suicide or all the members of his family will be killed one by one in two weeks’ time. Doctor Starks has just two weeks to discover the identity of the blackmailer, who has decided to devote himself to ruining his life.

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Part One: A Threatening Letter

Doctor Frederick Starks is a psychoanalyst with a long career who has led a quiet and relaxed life. On his fifty-third birthday he receives a letter congratulating him on his birthday and welcoming him to the first day of his death. The writer of the letter is a psychopath who states that Dr Ricky Starks ruined his life and therefore he will ruin his own.

The letter tells the psychoanalyst that killing him would be no challenge, so he asks him to kill himself. He is given the opportunity to save himself if he finds out the identity of the author of the threat within a fortnight and publishes it in a newspaper through which they would keep in touch. If the doctor fails to do so, he will have to commit suicide, otherwise this man, who has signed his name as Rumpelstiltskin, will destroy the lives of many innocent people and the doctor’s family members, whom he has included in the letter.

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After reading it, something told the Doctor not to pay any attention to it, while on the other hand he thought of calling the police, but he realised that this was absurd, they would not listen to him and would think it was a joke. They had left a clue in the letter so that Mr Starks could find out who it was, but this was of no use to him as he had no idea who it could be, it could be any of his former patients, which was impossible to remember each one of them.

As night fell, Doctor Frederick Starks began to call members of his family that he had not had contact with for a long time, which was somewhat awkward, many of them hardly remembered him and found it very strange that he was communicating after such a long time to find out if anything unusual was happening. With these calls, he wanted to know if anything unusual was happening to any of his family members, in order to confirm that the threats made in the letter were true (see article: The Count of Monte Cristo).

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Mr Ricky was about to give up and had many names left on the list when, during one of the calls to a nephew, he said that he could not deal with him at the moment because he was solving a serious problem. The doctor insisted, and it was then that he told him that his daughter, whose birthday it was on the same day that the doctor had received the threats, had received cards with pornographic images sent to the girl, who was only 14 years old. It was then that he realised the threats were true.

Dr Starks receives a visit from an attractive woman named Virgil, who turns out to be Rumplestiltskin’s assistant, who tells him that she will be his guide to Hell and provide him with certain clues. From that moment on, events begin to unfold that will gradually ruin the psychoanalyst’s life.

One of his patients, Roger Zimmerman, committed suicide by throwing himself into a train at one of the stations. Dr Frederick discovered that he had left a letter blaming his doctor, Frederick Stark, for his death. This gets him into a lot of trouble with his patient’s family and the law.

The money in Ricky’s bank accounts, which represented all his savings, disappeared. He is also informed by the College of Psychoanalysts that they have received a complaint of rape from one of his patients, Dr Frederick Starks, who claims that the doctor abused her during his sessions, indicating that this was an essential requirement of his treatment.

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All of this was just the beginning of trouble for the psychoanalyst, who realised that it would truly ruin his life. In a meeting with the lawyer of the alleged patient the doctor had raped, he learns that it was just another of Rumplestiltskin’s assistants, no doubt named Merlin. Some time later, Dr Starks discovers that the woman he was accused of raping was none other than Virgil.

Through the newspaper publications he used to communicate with Mr R, Dr Starks came to the conclusion that Rumplestiltskin was the son of a former patient. (See article: The Perfume)


Dr Starks decided to visit Dr William Lewis, his mentor, who had helped him train Ricky and taught him much about psychoanalysis. He sought his help and found that Mr R had already been in contact with him. Dr Lewis served as a guide for his research.

He went to the clinic where he had worked 20 years earlier, where he found Claire Tyson’s file and discovered that Rumplestiltskin was one of three children of this woman who did not complete her treatment, attending only four sessions. Mrs Tyson committed suicide two weeks later (at the same time as Ricky’s suicide) after being treated by the doctor when Mr R was a child.

Not knowing what to do, and with a fortnight’s deadline looming, Ricky unwittingly travels to his summer home on Cape Cod, where Dr Starks decides to plan his death in great detail. He donates all his money to charity and sets fire to his summer house (see also: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven).

Dr Starks writes a newspaper article in which he tells Mr R that he has won the game. He is said to have drowned at sea, leaving his clothes on the shore. The news of the death of the psychoanalyst Frederick Starks was fact and news to all.

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Part Two. The man who never was

After his death, Dr Starks was forced to take on a new identity; Richard Lively, a homeless man with HIV who had agreed never to reveal his condition, was given a place to live and a job as a janitor at a university. And so the former Ricky Starks began to plan his revenge on Mr R, and this time he would be the one to ruin his life.

Richard Lively stayed in hiding while he researched everything about Mr R’s life in order to destroy him. He got several jobs and set out to find out what had happened to Mrs Claire Tyson’s three children. He found their father in a lunatic asylum, who gave him an address after he refused.

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Claire Tyson was a woman who was abused and mistreated by her husband (whom Rumplestiltskin took it upon himself to kill), she had three children who were put up for adoption after she committed suicide.

Part Three. Even Bad Poets Love Death

In this part of the book, Rumplestiltskin learns that Dr Starks is alive after a press release in which Richard Lively tells him that he has come back to life and that they will meet again in a game. From that moment on, his revenge would begin.

Richard Lively discovered that Merlin and Virgil were the two brothers of Rumplestiltskin. He also found the address of the man who had adopted these three children, who turned out to be his mentor, Dr Lewis, who confessed to him that he had raised Mr R as a professional killer. (See also: The Tunnel, a novel by Ernesto Sábato).

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Dr Lewis commits suicide by shooting himself with a gun in the presence of Dr Starks, but not before pointing him to a book where he would find all the answers, and telling him that it was best for him to die so that Rumplestiltskin would have more reason to kill Ricky.

Through the book Dr Lewis showed him, Ricky was able to locate Merlin and Virgil, who was working as an actress in an agency. The psychoanalyst makes an appointment with Virgil, who is shocked to see him and tells him that he already knows all about her, Merlin and Rumplestiltskin.

She later visits Merlin’s law office and learns that he has a family and children. She tells Rumplestiltskin’s brothers that Dr Frederick Starks has returned to ruin their lives, just as they had ruined his.

When they both tell Rumplestiltskin about their meeting with Dr Starks, he becomes furious and Richard Lively arranges to meet Mr R at his old country house, which he burned down before his supposed suicide.

Richard Lively hides in the rubble and grabs the back of a man who comes to the house, to his surprise he realises that Mr R is none other than his patient Roger Zimmerman who had committed suicide earlier, so Dr Starks understood how his enemy knew so much about his life as he had been his patient for a whole year. They had an argument and Ricky shot him before Rumplestiltskin shot him first.

Fleeing the scene and leaving Mr R bleeding to death, Dr Frederick calls an ambulance for Rumplestiltskin and his brothers to come and get him. He told them that this was the end of the game, that they should pay him every month what he earned from his consultations for ruining his career, and that they should put all the property they had taken from him in Richard Lively’s name; if they didn’t, he would come back to end their lives.

Ricky would now be the one threatening these three brothers. He decided to start a new life, completely different from the one he had led before all these events. He went to live in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, under the identity of Richard Lively, where he worked as an assistant in a small clinic (see book: Chronicle of a Death Foretold).

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Some time after living in Haiti for about a year, Dr Frederick Starks decides to return to the United States; he sends a bottle of wine to Merlin, which his wife receives, and some white lilies (the flowers they send to the dead) to Virgil, with a note saying “I’m still thinking of you, Doctor S”.

Thus ends the story, leaving all its readers with questions and intrigues as to whether there will be a sequel to this book. Without a doubt, this is one of John Katzenbach’s most important works, a psychological novel in which he keeps all his readers in suspense and gives them an unexpected ending about the interesting case of the psychoanalyst Frederick Starks and how his life suddenly changed because of a mistake in his past.

Sentences from The Psychoanalyst

“Poetry is not my forte, giving is” is part of Rumplestiltskin’s letter to Dr Frederick Starks at the beginning of the book.

“Happy fifty-third birthday, Mr Starks. I welcome you to the first day of your death,” began the threatening letter Ricky Starks received from Mr R on his birthday.

One of the most influential and well-known phrases in the book is: “We are all afraid of being killed, not knowing that it is far worse to be destroyed. This is what Rumplestiltskin meant by not just wanting to kill Dr Starks, that would be too easy, he wanted to destroy and ruin his life, which is far worse.

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“Revenge serves to purify the heart as well as the soul.

“Knowing something does not always mean understanding it” (See: Love in the Time of Cholera).

“You must understand that there are no easy ways in life”, this phrase refers to the fact that one should not always look for an easy way, despite the quiet life of this psychoanalyst it was impossible for him to find an easy way out of this complicated and dangerous situation.

“The fact that something makes you uncomfortable does not mean that you should ignore it”.

“What I was is not what I am now, and what I am now is not yet what I can become”.

“You can move, you can even change your name; but what you can’t change is what you are and what you want to be.”

“Even psychopaths can be vulnerable to their desires.

“Nobody really says what they mean, life teaches you that, but it would be better if more people learned it.

“A man who has no past is capable of creating any future.” This phrase was said by Dr Starks after he faked his death, realising that he would never be the same person again, and therefore no longer had a past, so he could forge a new future.

“No one ever really apologises, they always say it, but they never mean it.

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“We focus on creating, but when the creation goes wrong, we blame others, when in fact we are responsible.

“As far as I know no one can start over, many say they are looking for a way to start their life again, but that’s not the way it is.

“There are many ways and means to kill someone.

“Many people see words as a way to get at the truth, I see them as a way to hide it,” these words are spoken by Rumplestiltskin to Dr. Starks, referring to the fact that, by virtue of his profession, he believes his patients’ words to be the truth, but he believes the opposite to be true.

“Betrayal can become very strong, even stronger than love.

“As miserable as our existence is, the best thing about it is that we recognise the days that have fallen to us”.

Characters in The Psychoanalyst

  • Doctor Frederick Starks: he is a psychoanalyst with a very successful career, he leads a quiet and routine life, a widower who lives alone after the death of his beloved wife, he dedicates himself only to his work. He is one of the main characters who, after receiving a threatening letter on his fifty-third birthday, experiences an unexpected change in his relaxed life; after that, his life has never been the same.
  • Rumplestiltskin or Mr R: is one of the main characters, the author of the threatening letter that Dr Starks receives; a psychopathic killer who seeks revenge for the death of his mother. This character has been educated and has dedicated his life to planning and carrying out revenge, becoming a perfect killer and seeking not only to kill but to destroy the lives of the people who have ruined his own.

  • Virgil: a very attractive and seductive woman who introduces herself to Dr Ricky as Mr R’s assistant, providing him with information. She is an actress who Dr Starks later discovers is the sister of Rumplestiltskin, the daughter of Mrs Claire Tyson.
  • Merlin: is a family man who is a lawyer. He was hired to report psychoanalyst Frederick Stark to the College of Psychoanalysts for rape and to ruin the doctor’s career and reputation. Another of Mr R’s assistants, who also happened to be his and Virgil’s brother.
  • Doctor Lewis: a very successful and renowned psychoanalyst, he was Doctor Starks’ mentor and taught him a lot about psychoanalysis. He can be seen as the real killer. He was the one who adopted Claire Tyson’s three children and taught them revenge, especially the eldest, Rumplestiltskin, whom he filled with hatred and taught to become a murderer and destroy his enemies, especially Dr Ricky, who had ruined his life and was responsible for his mother’s suicide.

  • Roger Zimmerman: was a patient of psychoanalyst Ricky Starks, a disabled man who had many problems with his mother. At the beginning of the book he was led to believe that he had committed suicide by throwing himself into the subway, but Dr Starks later discovered that he was the real Rumplestiltskin, who had been posing as his patient for over a year.
  • Richard Lively: is the character born after Dr Starks’ suicide, a beggar who contracted HIV and agreed to give him his identity and never reveal it. From that moment on, after Frederick Starks’ death, this was the psychoanalyst’s new identity.

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Reviews of The Psychoanalyst

Most readers of this work are satisfied with the story, they consider it to be an interesting, suspenseful story that keeps you interested throughout the book and gives you an unexpected ending. It has an excellent development, it is a good psychological thriller, it conveys the emotions of the characters in a good way, it engages the reader from the beginning, especially with the letter received by the psychoanalyst.

Most of what you get from this book are positive reviews, it’s impressive the way it grips its readers, who say they can’t stop reading until the end. It is an impressive psychological work, entertaining and easy to read, it is very well thought out and has a very good narrative, linking certain situations with a lot of cunning and imagination.

The main negative criticisms of The Psychoanalyst relate to the characters, some of whom do not develop as expected, so that the reader does not feel a connection with any of them. They also express that Mr R. is a fickle character; at certain moments he appears to be a perfect and immortal murderer, while at other times he appears to be a child incapable of controlling himself.


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Other readers said that the end of the book was too fast, it could have been developed a bit more. Also, some people felt that there were long stretches in the book that were boring. However, it is a gripping story with an unexpected ending. It conveys emotion and suspense to the reader, as well as great intrigue throughout the story (see article: The Metamorphosis).

The Psychoanalyst is considered one of the best works by the American writer John Katzenbach, who brings a psychological and suspenseful plot, one of the favourites of the followers of this genre. Most of its reviews are positive, it does not allow the reader to foresee the end of the story, it is a highly recommended book for those who like suspense stories, it is a story with a sinister sense and an impressive realism.


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Plot of The Psychoanalyst

The Psychoanalyst is a psychological and suspenseful book that narrates what Doctor Frederick Starks, a specialist in psychoanalysis, went through after receiving a letter on his birthday threatening to destroy his life and innocent people if he did not commit suicide in fifteen days; giving him the opportunity to discover who the person was who wanted to ruin his life.

It is a very interesting story that captivates its readers through the way in which the psychoanalyst searches for a way to discover who is the person who wants to destroy his life. He knew that it was the son of one of his former patients who blamed the doctor for his mother’s suicide. In the course of the book, the doctor was forced to fake his suicide in order to have more time to discover everything about this mysterious person.

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Psychoanalyst Ricky Starks uncovers and puts together all the pieces to get to the truth about Mr R, which involves everyone from his mentor, the person who taught him much about his profession, to one of his current patients, who he was led to believe had committed suicide at the start of the book. From that moment on, he took it upon himself to put an end to the people who were dedicated to destroying his life and career.

The Psychoanalyst Bibliography

This book was published in 2002. A year later he published its Spanish version, which was widely sold in Spain and other Latin American countries such as Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Mexico.

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Due to the great success of John Katzenbach’s new work, several editions were published in 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2010. The Psychoanalyst is one of the bestselling books by this American author, who will publish a new edition in Spanish in 2012 to celebrate the book’s tenth anniversary.

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