Can Sociopathy be Reversed?

Once a Liar - A. F. Brady

The first-person narrator of A.F. Brady’s Once a Liar is exactly what many people assume all Defense Attorneys must be to succeed- callous, soulless and greedy.  The book opens as Peter attempts to feign human emotions at the funeral of his ex-wife.  He is dismissive of his caring girlfriend and clearly dreads the fact that his estranged 16-year-old son will be coming to live with them. It turns out that Peter was not always this way, evidenced in flashbacks to the time when he met the deceased woman and began his career.  Ashamed of his lackluster childhood, Peter has reinvented himself by creating a fabricated life story that allows him to assimilate into the upper echelons of NY society. His ex-wife just happened to be the daughter of his hero and mentor, a famous and ruthless defense lawyer.  Over time, Peter loses more and more of himself as he begins to adopt the attitudes and habits of his father-in-law.   In the present timeline, the consequences of his secret past and increasingly anti-social and amoral behavior are coming to fruition, and Peter is accused of the murder of a long-time rival DA’s daughter. The evidence piles up against him and even his closest associates don’t believe in his innocence.  Even the reader may be suspicious of this character that repeatedly revels in his lack of a moral center.  The mystery of the murder concludes satisfyingly, but some of the plot elements are problematic.  Much of Peter’s character is based on the idea of sociopathy as predisposed, triggered by a trauma, and potentially reversible by another significant event.  If left unaddressed, it can develop into psychopathy.  This is not how modern psychological theory describes these traits (diagnosis is Antisocial Personality Disorder). The women in the story are portrayed as unbelievably long-suffering and patient with this man who seems to have no redeeming qualities and is emotionally abusive.  The clues for the mystery are a bit transparent and many will be able to spot them easily before the end, thereby ruining a pivotal twist. In summary, Once a Liar is a passably decent thriller with some interesting plot elements that are sometimes overshadowed by characters that are too one-dimensional to connect with the reader.