Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Psychologist Alex Delaware Checks into the Heartbreak Hotel

Thalia Mars is a couple weeks short of her one hundredth birthday, and so when she calls psychologist Alex Delaware and asks for an appointment, Delaware can hardly refuse. Delaware calls to see Thalia at the aging L.A. luxury hotel where she has been in residence for years. She knows that Alex specializes in child psychology and also knows that he often consults with the police, and the combination of these things is why she has called upon him. She doesn't want to be analyzed herself, she says, but she has some general questions about criminal behavior, the nature of guilt and that sort of thing. After a relatively brief first appointment, she writes Alex a check for $6,000.00, and asks him to drop by the following day.

Alex has some questions of his own, like how did a woman who spent her life as an accountant working for the county amass a fortune that would allow her to live in an expensive hotel, make generous contributions to charity, and retain psychologists at six grand a pop? Sadly, he never gets the chance to ask them, because when he returns the following day, he discovers that Thalia has been found dead. Superficially, it appears that she has died in her sleep, but the first responder and Alex both see some anomalies, and so Alex calles his buddy, homicide detective Milo Sturgis.

Well, of course, it turns out that Thalia has been murdered, but who would want to kill the woman and why? There's no evidence of a burglary; there are no heirs who might have been anxious to get their hands on the estate, and as a result, everyone is baffled. Milo asks Alex to assist in the investigation and before long the two are digging into a pattern of crimes both current and ancient and will wind up in the crosshairs of some very clever and dangers adversaries.

The story itself is okay, though it's certainly not the best plot that Jonathan Kellerman has ever devised. I also understand that I'm obsessing about something that probably doesn't bother a lot of other readers, but I'm disappointed that again, as has been the case with so many of the later books in this series, there is no logical reason for Delaware to be involved in the case.

Delaware is a child psychologist and what made the early books in this series so great was that he actually practiced his profession and the crimes in the novels grew naturally out of the patients' cases that he was treating. In many of the later novels, though, this one included, there's only the most tangential tie to Delaware's profession. His buddy Milo simply keeps inviting him along because a particular case is interesting and because he apparently enjoys Delaware's company.

In this case, Delaware is involved early on because the victim was someone who had consulted him one time. But once it's clear that she's been murdered, there's absolutely no logical reason for a civilian like him to be involved. And in real life, of course, he never would be. Real homicide detectives would take over and follow the case to its ultimate conclusion, and then Milo would call Alex and say, "Hey, Bud, we finally got the guy who offed your elderly client."

But Delaware is front and center, waving his police consultant's card around like a magic wand, and basically leading the investigation. At one point, he even goes charging into a house on the heels of a swat team. It's ridiculous, and basically, unlike the early books in this series, there's nothing to distinguish this book from the large run of novels in which police detectives solve crimes.

If Kellerman really wanted to write novels like this, he should have had Delaware make a career change about fifteen books ago, enroll in the police academy, and become an actual homicide detective. Then he and Milo could work side-by-side, chasing killers, and pedants like me wouldn't be complaining about things like this. I've followed this series since the beginning, and I won't be bullied into quitting now. I will hope against hope, however, that Kellerman will return to form and that these books will start making more sense sooner rather than later.

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