The Contortionist’s Handbook

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What to expect

Clevenger has produced an utterly persuasive and compelling novel, combining the zest and enthusiasm of a new voice with the craft and the guile of a veteran.

Following a near fatal overdose of painkillers, Daniel Fletcher is resuscitated in a Los Angeles emergency room and detained for psychiatric evaluation. Through a series of questions and tests, the psychiatrist must ascertain whether the patient intended to kill himself or whether he can walk free. What the psychiatrist doesn’t know is that Daniel Fletcher is actually John “Johnny” Dolan Vincent, a brilliant young forger who continually changes his identity to save himself from a lifetime of incarceration. Johnny has done such assessments before—many, many times. As he creates an elaborate bluff for the evaluator, Johnny reveals the true story of his traumatic past: a broken family, descent into the sinister world of forgers and criminals, and his one chance of salvation in the beautiful and elusive Molly. But time is running out; as his underworld clients lose patience and the psychiatrist’s net closes around him, Johnny has to negotiate the escape act of his life.

Evoking the boulevards and strip bars of 1980s Los Angeles with cinematic intensity, The Contortionist’s Handbook is a darkly hypnotic and stunningly original debut.

Critics Review

  • “A remarkable debut.”

    Time Out New York
  • “Clevenger’s talent is revealed in his ability to create a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit.”

    USA Today
  • “Clevenger delivers images that sear themselves into your mind. The result is a novel that is hard, pure, remarkably accomplished.”

    Seattle Times
  • Guys like John Vincent Dolan don’t come around often…Vincent’s unique talents and
    run from authority is truly captivating, and when things start getting more
    rumpled, we find ourselves saluting John right to the very end.”

    Crime Reads
  • “Immaculately detailed and emotionally explosive: this is rolling, riveting stuff, of a piece with stylish, edgy movies like Memento and Requiem for a Dream.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • “Clevenger cleverly creates a modern-day Mr. Ripley.”


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