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Literature / The Mental State

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The Mental State is a Psychological Thriller novel written by Tim Clarkworth.

Zachary ‘Zack’ State, a clever, mild-mannered and kind-hearted young man, is forced to watch as the love of his life is brutally raped. Driven to madness by this traumatic experience; he soon finds himself in prison on the charge of killing and disfiguring those responsible. Now facing off against a cold and uncaring commissioner, a sadistic prison guard and an entire society of ruthless criminals; this budding young sociopath must learn to use his newfound heartlessness quickly in order to survive in this dangerous and unforgiving place.


This work contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Zack essentially cycles through every type of Antihero possible. At any one time, he can be anything from a kind-hearted Guile Hero to a full-blown Villain Protagonist.
  • Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Zack invokes this trope to deal with Danny, Harry, Haig and Saif.
  • Batman Gambit: Zack’s knowledge of psychology makes him an expert at these.
  • Battle of Wits: Between Zack and Saif.
  • Becoming the Mask: Officer Reed infiltrates the prison by posing as a drug addict, James Garth, in order to expose the inmates who are dealing in Spice. Once he falls under Zack’s control, he is forced to continue the charade long after obtaining the evidence, which leads to him actually becoming an addict. It transpires that this was Zack’s intention all along, as it gave James the ability to empathise with addicts and consider an alternate point of view.
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  • Big Bad: Saif Dhu Hadin
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: The Crane Brothers are this. The little guy is in charge.
  • Big "NO!": Zachary’s mother gets one when she finds out her son is a sociopath, and Charlie gets one when Saif tells him how Zack told everyone his secret. Although, he was only acting at this point, having been told about it by Zack himself in advance.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: The inmates are ‘Irredeemables’ (Black) or people with really bad habits and shady pasts (Grey).
  • Combat by Champion: Zack decides that the only way to free the black inmates from Little Micky’s oppressive rule is to beat Big Billy in a one-on-one fight. He ultimately wins using underhanded tactics and cripples his opponent in the process.
  • The Corrupter: A specific type of ‘Irredeemable’ who Zack blames for being a bad influence on other people, especially inmates.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The fight between the male rapists and the female inmates. The girls MASSACRE the boys!
    • Also, the fight between the ‘Irredeemables’ and the rest of the prison populace and guards.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: Seeing Rose getting raped for Zachary.
  • Deadly Dodging: During Zack’s fight against Big Billy, uses this method to crush Billy’s hands. Subverted the first time, as Billy actually hits him straight in the gut, not knowing that he is hiding two metal trays and shards of broken glass under his jacket. Played straight the second time, in which he punches the wall with his other fist.
  • Defeating the Undefeatable: See Combat by Champion above.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Zachary and Rose both experience this twice at the same time. The first time is when Rose is raped and Zachary is made to watch. The second is when she watches him mutilating the rapist responsible and he realizes that he has made her terrified of him.
  • Diabolical Mastermind: Saif
    • Zack arguably becomes this too.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: All the ‘Irredeemables’ working for Saif are with him to get revenge on Zack for one reason or another. Saif also wants to recruit them into his global crime organisation and is using their shared hatred for Zack to do it.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Rose and Zack both go through an awful lot. One of them gets raped, traumatised and mugged twice. The other goes mad, loses scares his love away and spends seven years in prison. They finally find themselves and each other in the last two pages.
  • Everything but the Girl: Zack’s sociopathy gives him the ruthlessness and street smarts to not only survive in prison, but also take over the running of it from the inside. However, his ruthlessness scares Rose almost as much as the event that caused it.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Zack gets a Tranquil Fury one after witnessing Rose’s rape.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Zack prefers to make his victims suffer indefinitely rather than kill them. When he finds out that he has killed someone, his reacts with disappointment that the victim did not live to experience his torment for longer.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Saif always appears to be cordial with new people. However, he quickly drops the pretense when they are being uncooperative.
  • Fingore: Saif cuts off Micky’s ring finger and Micky returns the favor by removing all of Saif’s.
  • Forced to Watch: Zachary is deliberately made to watch as Danny rapes Rose. To say it affects him is an understatement.
  • Frame-Up: Zack plants Spice in Sgt. Haig’s office and spikes his coffee to make it look like he is dealing. He then informs Viceman about it, leading to Haig’s arrest.
  • Freak Out: Downplayed, Zachary goes through one when he is forced to watch Rose getting raped. This event triggers his sociopathy and kickstarts the rest of the plot.
  • Freudian Excuse: Zack attempts to understand and reform anyone who has one of these, regardless of how extreme the measures he has to take are. Those who do not have one of these are labelled ‘Irredeemables’ and are treated with considerably more contempt.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: A rare protagonist version. In prison, Zack starts off as a completely unknown and quiet first-timer. Within a year, he is unofficially running the place and is the leader of a gang. By the end of his 7-year sentence, he has completely changed the entire prison system, become a mythic figure in the criminal underworld and is the official spokesman for all the inmates.
  • Girls Behind Bars: The prison is split in half, with all the male inmates on one side and all the female inmates on the other.
  • Hellhole Prison: Downplayed. The prison is strict and some of the rooms are dirty, but it is little more than to be expected. Zack eventually succeeds in reversing this and transforming the prison into what is essentially a proper community.
  • He's Back!: In the final chapter, Zack is forced to rescue Rose again and, just like last time, scares her. It is this event that finally causes him to break down and let his pent-up grief come pouring out. Finally able to experience genuine emotions again, he reverts to his fragile ‘Zachary’ persona.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Zachary enters this semi-deliberately upon seeing his love interest being raped. He enters a state of Tranquil Fury to take his revenge and rescue her. However, this backfires when he sees how much his actions have also upset her, leading to him getting stuck in this state for nearly eight years.
  • Home Field Advantage: Zack tricks the rapists into crawling through a small hole to reach the women’s prison. Once they are inside, the women leap out of their hiding places and brutally pummel the already tired interlopers, who can only escape back through the hole one at a time.
  • Hourglass Plot: Chapter 12 has a three-sided version of this trope. The chapter starts with Haig beating Charlie and Zack intervening. It ends with Zack’s gang beating Haig and Charlie intervening.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Zack will do plenty of ruthless things out of what he deems necessity. Whether his actions are truly justifiable given the outcomes is up to the reader.
  • Idiot Ball: Bones is perfectly willing to believe the naïve newcomer over one of his most loyal supporters.
    • Saif is also keen to let a complete stranger into his innermost circle, providing he has complete control over them.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Narrowly averted. Zachary turns Danny’s gang against him by promising them that they can make a video recording of him eating part of Danny’s flesh. He then cuts a large chunk of flesh out of his arm and almost eats it. Fortunately, he is ultimately unable to do so and settles for licking the blood off it. It is still unsettling to contemplate.
  • The Infiltration: Viceman sends Officer Reed to pose as a drug-using criminal to investigate and identify the inmates who are secretly dealing in Spice. This backfires horribly when Zack works out what they are up to and blackmails both of them, leaving them completely at Zack’s mercy.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Zack is never malicious without reason. Many of his threats are idle ones and the dictatorship he turns the prison into is actually an extremely liberal one.
  • Loss of Identity: After being traumatised by Rose’s rape, the protagonist changes from kind and mild-mannered ‘Zachary’ to cold, ruthless and calculating ‘Zack’. He gets better at the end.
  • MacGuffin: Zack’s inscribed watch and James’ mobile phone.
  • Manslaughter Provocation: Zachary is sent to prison after mutilating the man who raped his girlfriend while forcing him to watch, stabbing one of his accomplices and killing another.
  • Maybe Ever After: In the final page, Rose is finally able to see the good in Zachary again and they embrace. It is unknown what happens to them afterwards, but it is implied that they are going to get back together now that Zachary’s sociopathy has been reversed, or at least suppressed.
  • Memento MacGuffin: The watch Rose gave to Zack is used to damage him emotionally, but also gives him the chance to give a moving speech to the entire prison. Subverted in that he actually bought the watch himself.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Zachary gets stuck in a sociopathic mindset after he realises that Rose is now afraid of him after the way he attacked the people who raped her. He spends the entire story trying to block out this pain, until the end, when he is forced to confront her. Once again, he saves and scares her, causing him to break down and whimper.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The only time Zack genuinely loses his temper is after he has arranged for the prison rapists to get lacerated by a hoard of violent female inmates. It serves to show just how much he despises rapists above all other types of offender.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Zack’s approach to anyone he considers an ‘Irredeemable’.
  • Playing Both Sides: Zack skilfully manipulates both the inmates and the law-enforcers and ultimately wins favour with both.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Zack does this when Harry attempts to slip him a mickey.
  • The Power of Friendship: A dark and cynical version. Zack decides that the best way to survive in prison is to befriend as many inmates as possible and turn them against the ‘Irredeemables’.
  • Prison Rape: Averted. Everyone in prison knows who the rapists are and keep their distance.
  • Prosthetic Limb Reveal: Several months after the big fight, Saif returns to prison and reveals that he has replaced his fingers with silver digits after someone (Micky and Billy) cut his real ones off in the confusion.
  • Psychotic Smirk: Zack likes doing this whenever he devises a cunning plan or bests an opponent.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The Irredeemables.
  • Rape and Revenge: The first victim of Zack’s wrath is Danny, the gang leader who raped Rose and forced him to watch. His response is to turn all his friends against him, gouge out a large chunk of his arm and deal him a well-deserved Groin Attack.
  • Rape as Drama: Zachary is forced to watch as Rose is raped. It is this experience that triggers his sociopathy.
  • Rape Is A Specialkind Of Evil: Zack can sympathise with a lot of inmates and their motives, including murderers. He prefers to reform them rather than punish them. However, there is no place in his heart for rapists at all. This is understandable, given what happened to Rose. He regards all the rapist inmates as beyond the point of saving and delights in using, abusing and beating the crap out of them.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: When you live in prison, it’s hard to find anyone to help you with your schemes who is NOT a criminal.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: Chapters 2-5 feature rape, murder, incarceration, madness, drug dealers and hazing. Once Zack’s schemes start kicking off, the tone and environment become considerably lighter. The Big Bad is essentially a bond villain with prosthetic fingers. By the end, everything has been sorted and everyone except the Irredeemables gets a happy ending.
  • Rousing Speech: Zack gives one to unite the other inmates against Saif and inspire them to continue protecting his dream of a prison that respects the inmates and their rights.
  • Siblings in Crime: The Cranes.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Harry likes doing this to get new inmates hooked on Spice. Luckily, Zack doesn’t fall for it.
    • Zack later does this to Haig as part of his plan to frame him for dealing in drugs.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Zack goes on one when he sees Rose being raped.
  • Safety in Indifference: Zack realises that Rose is now afraid of him and everyone else probably will be too. He doesn’t break out of this slump until the end, when he realizes that she is still afraid of him and he still cares about it.
  • The Sociopath: Zack is a clinically diagnosed Sociopath.
    • Saif is a ‘Psychopath’. Zack insists on making the distinction clear.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Zack can be pretty virtuous when he wants to be.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Zack delivers one to the rapist inmates as he explains how and why he screwed them over and got them beaten to within an inch of their lives.
    • He also gives one to Saif after the latter tries to rile him by smashing his treasured watch. He actually does this to inspire and rally support from the other inmates and encourage them to continue protecting his vision of a liberal prison after he has been released.
  • The Thirty-Six Stratagems: Zack studies Chinese warfare to devise ways of surviving in prison. He even has a complete list of all the stratagems and touches on a whopping thirty-four of them. The only ones he never uses at all are #16, which Saif uses instead, and #32, on account of there being no forts in prison.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The timid and ineffectual Zachary is quite different from the cunning and manipulative Zack.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: Zack has a much darker view of the world than Zachary.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Zachary becomes a lot more cutthroat once he becomes Zack.
  • Tragic Hero: Zack may be cruel and ruthless, but it is little wonder given what happened to him.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Zack’s watch that Rose gave to him. Subverted, as he actually bought it himself to create a fictitious weakness for himself.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Zack’s machinations are mostly revealed through flashbacks, and he never tells anyone what he is really up to unless it is absolutely necessary. Inevitably, his plans always work.
  • Uriah Gambit: Zack pulls one of these on Kenny.
  • Villain Song: Zack’s rendition of Alice Cooper’s ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Zack occasionally deliberates on his objectives and motives when he is with someone he knows he can trust.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Saif is controlling the funds needed to pay for Officer Jeff’s daughter’s medication.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Zack pulls off several of these over the course of the story.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Zack can exploit any situation he finds himself in, and his goals keep getting grander with each new opportunity he sees.