LOGLINE: Stanford University. 1961. Renegade student journalists expose connections between a professor’s hypnosis experiments and two mysterious deaths, forcing the university to face its culpability in the reckless endangerment of young coeds, who not only endure sexual violence on campus but are thrown into the clutches of a diabolical physician in town, college scandals which continue to dominate our headlines today.
INTRODUCTION: Fifty-four years before the 2015 assault of Chanel Miller (Know My Name) at Stanford, an accusatory op-ed piece appeared in the Stanford Daily about the annual Full Moon Prank—a “tradition” that degenerated into acts sexual violence against Stanford coeds (one of the first written accounts describing such incidents at the prestigious school according to a 2018 article in Stanford Politics) . Had my senior date not refused to take me to it, I could easily have become one of its victims. I did, however, serve as a subject in Dr. Ernest Hilgard’s famed hypnosis experiments that freshman year and was ejected from the study after having a severe PTSD reaction to a regression item. And in the process of researching this novel, I uncovered court records detailing the horrendous acts of a physician predator who preyed on numerous young women in the Palo Also community at that time.
In my effort to bring truth into fiction, I have drawn on these historical accounts of violence toward women, my own history of childhood maltreatment, and my 44 years as a clinical psychologist treating victims of such acts to create this dark, socially relevant campus cozy mystery for your consideration.
SINISTER SUGGESTIONS is set in 1961—a time teetering between Camelot and catastrophe. A multiple first-person POV shared by the five main characters represents both the camaraderie and individuality typical of college-age young people.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A psychology professor’s hypnosis experiments at Stanford University are rumored to be producing ruinous effects on female student subjects. The school’s administration turns a blind eye when a student prank degenerates into sexual violence against female coeds. A young woman with a history of abuse suffers from the sudden onset of amnesia, causing her to forget she is even a student at the university. A near-demonic predator waits in the wings to prey on already wounded victims. Then, a suicide off the school’s landmark Hoover tower and a homicide/rape in a nearby eucalyptus grove ignite a maelstrom the university would prefer to ignore. The stage is set for a group of renegade student journalists on the campus newspaper to flout the school’s attempts to shut them down. Coming to the aid of the amnesia victim, the young journalists doggedly pursue every lead to solve the seemingly disparate deaths to the extent of putting their own academic careers and their very lives on the line. The social issues, university politics, volatile world affairs, and personal tragedies of that time bear an uncanny resemblance to the most incendiary contemporary issues we face in today.
THE SERIES: SINISTER SUGGESTIONS is the first book of my new mystery series, The Stanford Daily Mysteries, taking place in the early Sixties—a time of national and international upheaval and the breeding ground for later movements organized to promote justice and equality. True life incidents, recorded in the archives of the Stanford Daily, are behind every story. Book Two, PERFECT TREACHERY, is set in 1962 and has the student journalists investigating the seemingly unrelated death (from a botched lobotomy) of a young man in a mental institution near the Stanford campus and the asphyxiation of a Stanford student in a seedy hotel room in Buenos Aires.
AUTHOR BIO: A clinical psychologist for 44 years, Dr. Karen Stephen guided thousands through mayhem and misery to victories they could never have imagined. Recently retired from the mental health profession, Karen Stephen has returned to her childhood home of San Diego and is spending time with her grandchildren, hoping to create a safer, more supportive world for their generation.