I love a good psychological thriller. Jonathan Kellerman has written his share of them, and I’ve enjoyed most of the Alex Delaware novels. Kellerman is a clinical psychologist turned novelist, and he creates characters who suffer believable traumas. Delaware pops up briefly in The Murderer’s Daughter, but it’s only a brief walk-on part. The Murderer’s Daughter (Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345545312, August 2015, $28.00) is a stand-alone novel, and Doctor Grace Blades—not Alex Delaware—is the protagonist.
Grace survived a horrific childhood. She grew up, earned a doctorate, and became a clinical psychologist. Kellerman writes about what he knows., and he knows psychology and martial arts. Grace, too, knows psychology and martial arts. Grace is a survivor, one of those resilient children who not only survive childhood but thrive as adults. Psychologists publish case studies about children like Grace. In fact, Grace wrote and published in a peer-reviewed journal a thinly-disguised case study about herself. It was that case study about a child who sees a parent kill and be killed that attracted the attention of Andrew Toner. Andrew, like Grace, is plagued by childhood trauma and family secrets.
Andrew Toner (A. Toner) is Grace’s last clinical appointment before a well-earned two-week vacation. Grace is a rescuer. She rescues animals. And she rescues people when she can. That’s why she became a clinical psychologist. A clinical psychologist named Malcolm rescued Grace. Grace repays Malcolm by paying it forward. However, when Andrew keeps his appointment, Grace discovers she and Andrew have a history.
Andrew is the man Grace seduced in a bar the night before.
Complication follows complication. A homicide detective informs Grace that a man matching Andrew’s description was killed, and Grace’s business card was found in his shoe. Grace, fearing she is a prime suspect in Andrew’s murder, tries to unravel the mystery of A. Toner. She finds herself hunted by both the police and psychopathic killers. In order to survive, Grace becomes a killer herself.
Kellerman alternates the here and now with backstory reminiscences of Grace’s early life. Hidden within her own history are clues to Andrew’s real identity and the identity of Andrew’s killers.
As an educational psychologist, I loved Kellerman’s keen insights into the human condition. As a novelist, I could appreciate the sparse language, rich character development, and detailed descriptions of people and places. Grace’s risk-taking behavior is indicative of many survivors of PTSD who feel they have nothing more to lose.
The Murderer’s Daughter isn’t the best book I’ve read nor the best book Kellerman has written. But it’s certainly worth the read. Five stars for great insights and a character I empathized with and learned to care about, despite all her faults.