James Thane's Reviews > When the Bough Breaks

When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman
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Aug 10, 12

bookshelves: crime-fiction
Read in August, 2012

This is the first book in Jonathan Kellerman's long-running series featuring Alex Delaware, a child psychologist. Burned out, Alex has retired from his practice at the age of thirty-three after consulting in a particularly unsettling case involving the young victims of a serial pedophile. The children are well on the road to recovery, but Alex is in desperate need of some down time.

But then Dr. Morton Handler, a psychiatrist, is brutally murdered along with his girlfriend in the apartment that they shared. A little girl named Melody Quinn, who lives in a neighboring apartment, was up in the middle of the night and may have seen the killers. But the child is deeply troubled and is unable to give the police any useful help.

Alex's friend, homicide Detective Milo Sturgis, convinces Alex to examine the girl in the hope that Alex can get her to open up and give the police the description of the killers that they so desperately need. Alex reluctantly agrees and is immediately drawn into a dark and very dangerous world populated by wealthy, powerful and amoral men. But despite the threat to both his professional reputation and, ultimately, his personal safety, Alex cannot turn his back on the evil he's uncovered or on the little girl who has no one else to defend her.

This is really an excellent introduction to a series that may have lost its way a bit in later books. The idea of a child psychologist as the main protagonist in a series of crime novels was a brilliant stroke, and Kellerman, who was himself a child psychologist, created a very convincing character in Alex Delaware.

In this, and in most of the early books in the series, Alex's psychological skills were central to the stories. Alex was called in to consult, perfectly legitimately, by a police department that clearly needed his help. Alex was the central character and most of the others, including Milo Sturgis, rotated around him. As in this book, Alex spent a great deal of time investigating on his own, unraveling the mystery and dealing with the bad guys in a way that made perfect sense.

Perhaps there were only so many plots that would legitimately accommodate a main character like Alex Delaware, but in the last few novels especially, the character of Milo Sturgis has come much more to the fore and there really doesn't seem to be much of a legitimate reason for Alex to be tagging along. Milo will simply call Alex and say, "Hey, I've got an interesting case. Wanna ride along?" Alex may offer the occasional psychological insight, but often there's no credible reason for him to be involved in the investigation and even the casual reader understands that no police department would tolerate a civilian like Alex playing such a prominent role in a homicide investigation.

That may well be unjustified nitpicking, especially since I continue to enjoy these books. But going back to the beginning and re-reading this opening installment reminds one of how brilliant this series was initially and can only make you wish that the later books were still this good.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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message 1: by Tfitoby (new)

Tfitoby I've not read any James but the child abuse angle made me think of Andrew Vachss, how would you compare the two?


James Thane Sorry, I haven't read any Andrew Vachss, so I guess we can't be too much help to each other on this one...


message 3: by Tfitoby (new)

Tfitoby oh. drat. do in future.


James Thane OK!


Larry Bassett I have a pretty substantial TBR shelf but this seems like a pretty interesting series - especially if you start at the beginning as you suggest.

I have read some Vachss and I find his character Burke hard to compare to anyone. There is the child abuse connection but it is hard for me to imagine Alex Delaware using any of his tactics! Burke often kills the perps.


message 6: by Tfitoby (new)

Tfitoby are you saying that Alex Delaware is Burke-light Larry?


Larry Bassett Tfitoby wrote: "are you saying that Alex Delaware is Burke-light Larry?"

I will reserve final judgment until after I have a personal experience with Alex, but I am pretty sure I would rather meet him in a dark alley than Burke. Burke-lite will do in the meantime.


message 8: by Jonathan (new) - added it

Jonathan Peto So, bringing criminals to justice, instead of killing them, is lite?


James Thane OK, now I've got to read Burke sooner rather than later so that I can make a judgment here.


message 10: by Tfitoby (new)

Tfitoby Jonathan wrote: "So, bringing criminals to justice, instead of killing them, is lite?"

I think your questioning that concept says it is.


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