It was soft and felt like a piece of wet cloth with threads
attached. Then Ulman realized what he was holding: part of a human
scalp. "I cut that off the guard after I blew his brains out,"
LePonty said. He put his mouth close to Ulman's right ear. His
breath was warm: "Maybe you can explain why I did that, Doc." -
From "The Kindling Effect"
SEX, VIOLENCE, romance and the functioning of the body's most
important part - that complex orb, the brain - converge in local
author Peter Hernon's latest book. Though fictional, Hernon's first
medical suspense novel (he's working on a second) delves deeply
into areas of real scientific inquiry, into what the future may
Already, research has found that alterations in brain
chemistry, neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, can
increase or decrease a person's propensity for violence. "They've
demonstrated that criminal behavior can be predicted and modified,"
Then he laughed: "I don't understand 60 percent of what they're
doing." So Hernon went to school, interviewing psychiatrists and
neurologists at schools of medicine at Washington and St. Louis
universities, experts on brain-wave patterns and electromagnetic
stimulation. And the researchers who work with brain-scan imagers,
computerized pictures that slice the brain into razor-thin parts.
So his novel is about dark urges and cutting-edge research into
what drives this behavior - the compulsions that result in some of
the worst crimes known to humankind, the work of serial sexual
sadistic killers, the Jeffrey Dahmers and Theodores Bundys of the
Is there a way, through medicine, to prevent this deviant
For Peter Hernon, 48, an assistant city editor at the
Post-Dispatch, a lot of the background material for this came from
two local researchers: a forensic psychiatrist who works with
serial sexual killers, Dr. John Rabun, and a psychologist whose
specialty is the treatment of antisocial personality disorders,
Bits and pieces of Rabun's real cases pop up in Hernon's novel.
And he credits the psychiatrist with showing him how the twisted
mind of a serial killer works.
Hernon even made psychiatric grand rounds with Rabun at the St.
Louis University medical school a year and a half ago.
It culminated in a brown-bag luncheon gathering with the
student shrinks, who tried to eat (most decided against it) while
watching Rabun's gruesome and grisly slides of the end result of
the homicidal rages of serial killers. That real-life scene also
made it into Hernon's novel.
"Peter met with me multiple times, researching the behavior of
serial sexual killers, and sexual sadistic deviants," said Rabun.
"I find them some of the most fascinating psychiatric cases around."
Obviously, so did Hernon.
"Rabun went over all of the science and research and made
numerous fixes" in the manuscript, said Hernon. "My editor, Henry
Ferris, wanted to keep all the technical details, but make them
reader-friendly. So it did get involved."
So part of "The Kindling Effect" (William Morrow, $24) is a
medical thriller centered on the latest research into brain
abnormalities. What brain-kindling all means: these controversial
neurochemical experiments, currently done only on animals. "Human
research is not far off," said Rabun.
What is kindling?
Using electrical stimulation of the brain's limbic region - its
most primitive part, where our darkest, primeval urges reside -
kindling can cause the brain to go into a spontaneous seizure,
basically rewiring it in the process. …