‘Breakdown,’ by Jonathan Kellerman

The big problem with a successful, ongoing fiction series is self-repetition. The template for Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels is pretty well established. Dr. Delaware, successful child psychologist, gets a call from his police detective buddy Milo Sturgis (overweight, conservative, and “gay”), who asks him to advise him on some case in progress. Alex happily cooperates, and together they uncover motive, means, and opportunity. (In real life, of course, Alex would never be allowed to meddle in police work that way, and defense lawyers would have a heyday with his involvement. But in the real world both Alex and Milo would be long retired by now, so why mess with success?).

In Breakdown, the latest in the series, author Kellerman jiggers the template a little. This time it’s Alex who asks for Milo’s help in a case of his own. Some years ago, he was called in to consult on the welfare of a child at risk. The little boy’s mother was an actress on a TV sitcom. She had personality disorders, but seemed to be functioning all right as a mother, and Alex found her son highly intelligent but otherwise normal.

Now he gets a call from a mental health worker. The actress, long out of work, has been found living on the streets, psychotic. Her primary psychologist is dead, so Alex is now the health care professional of record on the file. Alex talks to the former actress, being held in a ridiculous government-funded facility (which gives the author a chance to make some pointed comments on our current mental health system). She’s almost completely psychotic now. There seems to be no record that she ever had a child, and Alex, driven by concern and guilt, enlists Milo in trying to uncover the actress’s past, to see what happened to the boy.

What they uncover is a dark family secret and a string of unsolved murders going back decades.

I always enjoy the Alex Delaware books, and this one pleased me particularly. I love cold case stories, and Breakdown was a fascinating one.

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