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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Worth the Read

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Light is available September 11, 2015

Tomorrow, September 11, 2015, is the official publication and release date of Light, my latest novel. Light is a supernatural thriller, a dark fantasy. It’s available as a trade paperback for $19.95 and as a Kindle e-book for $3.99. You can order the trade paperback here or the Kindle version here

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells is worth reading

Dan Wells is a monstrous writer. And, although he says, “I am not a serial killer,” I don’t believe him.

He has the same tendencies all serial killers have: he’s obsessive, compulsive, may be sociopathic, and he has a vivid imagination. I have been accused of the same tendencies, so I know of which I speak.

But Dan Wells created rules to keep the serial killer trapped inside him. He doesn’t harm animals, does not start fires, says nice things about people instead of thinking bad thoughts, does not think of people as “it,” refrains from following or stalking people, does not make threats, and leaves when threatened. Those are good rules, really. But they are hard to keep.

John Wayne Cleaver, Wells’ teenaged protagonist, has the first name of John Wayne Gacy and the same last name of an instrument of death (which is also the same last name as a fictional television character from the long-forgotten past). Meat the Cleavers (heh heh). They’re a nice normal family (heh heh). Except for their son (heh heh).

I’m Not a Serial Killer and the subsequent Mr. Monster and I don’t Want to Kill You read like young adult novels. That’s probably because the protagonist is a young adult still in high school, there is no gratuitous or explicit sex anywhere in the novels, and graphic descriptions of actual violence is kept to the bare minimum. The conflicts are those of a typical high school boy (demanding and over-protective mother, girls and other boys who think he’s too nerdy and anti-social—which he is because he’s a sociopath—an equally-nerdy best friend, and a hopeless crush on a girl named Brooke). Only John Wayne Cleaver doesn’t fantasize about bedding Brooke. He fantasizes about killing her.

And John Wayne Cleaver’s demons are real and not metaphorical.
he Hollow City (TOR Books, ISBN 978-0-7653-6871-3, $7.99, November 2013) reads as well as the John Wayne Cleaver trilogy and offers insights the other books do not. It’s worth a read. But it’s not the same as a John Wayne Cleaver novel without Cleaver himself.

Next of Kin is a tantalizing look at the new John Wayne Cleaver series that begins with The Devil’s Only Friend (TOR Books, ISBN 978-0765380678, $14.99, June 2015). This is a more grown-up John Wayne Cleaver (though still an impulsive teen), and Wells has also matured as an author with a few more books under his belt. Next of Kin is told from the viewpoint of Elijah Sexton, one of the demon monsters Cleaver now hunts. Author Wells deliberately makes Elijah, like Mr. Crowley, a sympathetic character. Elijah rejects his basic nature in order to recapture his humanity. Is John capable of doing the same?

Elijah Sexton reappears in The Devil’s Only Friend, only now we see Elijah through John Wayne Cleaver’s eyes. Cleaver has left Clayton for the big city (ok, not the Big Apple but a fictional mid-sized midwestern city) where he is part of an elite FBI team assigned to hunt and destroy demons. Brooke is still alive, but she is possessed by a demon. Brooke reveals that the demons are actually a group of 10,000 year old humans—called either the “Gifted” or “the Withered”, depending on how they view themselves—who each exchanged one element of their essential humanity for the promise of eternal life. They volunteered to give up being entirely human to gain the powers of a god.

The entire series is brilliant, and it’s extremely well-written. Who is the hunted and who is the hunter? What twists and turns will complicate John Wayne Cleaver’s life next? The Devil’s Only Friend is a fast-paced supernatural thriller worth reading.