“The Murderer’s Daughter,” by Jonathan Kellerman

  • Ballantine. 384 pages. Hardcover  $28.00

This taut new thriller features a memorable, series-worthy heroine.

When it comes to psychological thrillers, Jonathan Kellerman has been at the top of the heap for three decades. His Alex Delaware series is an institution. In this truly frightening stand-alone effort (though Delaware is briefly mentioned), Kellerman introduces a character who could conceivably head a new series.

Gorgeous Dr. Grace Blades, a brainy 34-year-old, has a private practice as a psychologist who aids victims of trauma. However, she is a victim of childhood trauma with the capacity to wreak havoc on others. Her sense of justice is very personal.

We first meet Grace at the age of 5, the neglected child of an unmarried pair of slackers, Ardis and Dodie, who hold menial restaurant jobs and barely exist in a cruddy trailer park. Grace learns to take care of herself and teaches herself how to read. She’s a prodigy in a cultural wasteland.  43626.jpg (200×226)

After this brief introduction, the author takes us almost 30 years ahead, providing several chapters on the successful Dr. Blades. They reveal her skilled and caring professionalism, her ethical business practices, and her quiet confidence.

We also discover the risk-taker part of Grace that vies with her control-freak dimension. Self-control and self-stimulation alternate like a perilous seesaw trying to reach a point of balance.

Structurally, the narration involves two alternating timelines. One focuses on a short period of present time in the life of Grace the psychotherapist and thrill-seeker. The other takes us through several stages of her development, usually marked by a change in the institution or foster home where she resides.

Eventually, of course, the timelines meet. Along the way, Kellerman provides a detailed exploration of how children in such circumstances are likely to be treated and what the consequences might be. More importantly, he builds our understanding of how Grace in her mid-30s is a product of the nurturing — or lack of it — she received during her development. She is also a product of her own willpower and self-creation.

Part of Grace’s preparation for life is watching her parents wage bloody war upon each other. Her mother, Dodie, stabs her tormenter, Ardis, her father, who dies. Then Dodie plunges the knife into herself, first instructing Grace to remember what she sees.

She will.

Grown-up Grace enjoys exercising power, particularly sexual power, over men. She lives a secret nightlife of trysts in which she is the controlling temptress. On the occasion that drives the main plot, Grace rehearses some lies, dresses to kill (pardon me), and goes to a bar expecting to entice a partner for the evening. A man calling himself Roger takes the bait. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in Washington Independent Review of Books, click here: The Murderer’s Daughter | Washington Independent Review of Books

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