The Murderer's Daughter
Review by: Mark Palm
It might have to do with my dislike of the work of Henry James, except for The Turn of the Screw and The Jolly Corner, but I have always had issues with works of fiction that have been called psychological. Maybe it also has to do with my belief that Sigmund Freud is perhaps the most overrated scientific figure of the modern era. Anyway, I believe that the term that is more fitting for the kind of works laboring under this misnomer is Works of Character. They are short stories and novels that delve into the character of the protagonist, and are not so much interested in what happens to them, as how and why is a exceptional novel of character.
Jonathan Kellerman is the best-selling author of several books featuring Alex Delaware, a psychologist, and I have read many of them, and they are very good. But his new novel, The Murderer’s Daughter, a stand alone featuring a blink-and-you-missed-it-cameo by Delaware, is, I think, even better. The protagonist, Dr. Grace Blades, a psychologist, is truly one of the most interesting and fascinating characters I have read about in recent suspense fiction. Usually, in suspense fiction, a character is called new and interesting because they are, for example, a child prodigy with no sense of smell whose father was a particle physicist and mother was a bearded lady who raised her in a traveling carnival.
In this case, Grace is simply a girl raised in a trailer park by two parents who are neglectful at best and abusive at worst. A father who is a violent alcoholic, and a mother who isn’t much better. Needless to say one of them is a murderer. What she learns from this horrific childhood is two simple but crucial lessons; how to disappear, and that no one will take care of her but herself. She takes these two lessons to heart, and makes a life for herself. She becomes a successful psychologist, specializing in trauma therapy, giving her patients all of her attention, and living a life so planned and plotted, that she schedules times, called Leaps, where she engages in dangerous behavior, such as driving a sports car with her eyes closed, or engaging in anonymous encounters with strange men, to relieve her sexual tension.
Grace realizes that her ties with Roger/Andrew go far back into her childhood when she first became a foster child, and may have first met a serial killer who has been in and out of her life ever since. It’s hard to give you all of the twists and turns in this novel without spoiling, but trust me there are a ton of them, and Mr. Kellerman serves them up so that they truly surprise but never strain credulity. The Murderer’s Daughter is a fascinating novel of suspense, but what really makes it special is Grace. She is living breathing character so well-drawn that she commands your attention. She is so riveting that even the everyday minutia of her life held my interest. Now that is a character.