Book Review: When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman

Posted June 4, 2018 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

When the Bough Breaks by Jonathan Kellerman
Genres: Thriller
Published by Scribner on March 1, 1985
Pages: 293
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Blood Test, Over the Edge, Time Bomb

Based in L.A., it’s the first in the Alex Delaware thriller series and revolving around a child psychologist who took early retirement five-and-a-half months ago.

In 1986, When the Bough Breaks won the Anthony and Edgar Awards for Best First Novel.

My Take

Sneaky. Kellerman slides his story under your skin, smooth, easy, no great jolts and with Alex’s perspective in first person protagonist point-of-view. Once he has you hooked on the intriguing characters, then he begins to slide in those other hooks, the ones that make your heart pound, your brain need to know, and the biggest hook of all — the curious need to know who, what, and why.

In some ways, When the Bough Breaks is a bit slow to get a move on, but it does have some nasty little twists. Nothing that dives too deep, but enough to make you wonder how such people can exist.

I started out liking Robin simply because she’s an artist with wood, then I didn’t, and now I’m not sure. After all, her NIMBY attitude could return. Milo is quite different, and I’m enjoying his relationship with Alex. There’s an intellectual side that makes it fun. Alex, of course, is intriguing. He’s incredibly smart and empathic, and yet he doesn’t come off as holier than thou. I’m also hoping that Biondi continues to feature…it’s that urge for justice to prevail…in public. Yes, I liked Professor Van der Graaf as well. He may not use his power, but he does understand the realities.

It was difficult to feel the when of the setting, even though Kellerman did mention dates and events, i.e., the Korean War and Towle’s family dying in 1951. But they were blips, and there was no ongoing sense of the period. I think it’s the technological lines that tripped me up. No cellphones. No Internet. Alex loving his Seville. It could have been any time, any when.

There’s some fascinating insight into Hispanic society and their communication style, as well as an explanation of curanderos. And there oughta be a course or ten in medical schools to teach doctors (hmmm, maybe cops too??) about caring. That snarky comment about “academic rigor” has made me think about checking out how involved a doctor is and whether that involvement includes gladhanding or writing papers.

It’s well-written with some issues, and I’m curious to see how Kellerman improves…and I want to know what Alex does next, if Milo and Rick continue, if Robin expands her area of expertise and her support for Alex. We’ll see what happens when I pick up Blood Test.

The Story

Detective Milo Sturgis has two brutally hacked-up bodies and a seven-year-old witness who can’t remember. It’s Dr. Alex Delaware attempting to unlock Melody’s memories that brings the first lead. A step that leads down a twisty path, one that makes connections in all the wrong places, including the catalyst that sent Alex into a spiraling depression.

Behind this single step lies a forty-year-old conspiracy, hiding an unspeakable evil that Alex must expose before it claims yet another innocent victim.

The Characters

Dr. Alex Delaware is a thirty-three-year-old child psychologist…and retired. I hate him already! A good-looking man, he’s burnt the candle from both ends and needs rest. He met Robin, who makes beautiful musical instruments, at McCabe’s, a guitar shop.

Homicide Detective Milo Bernard Sturgis is gay and has an M.A. in American Lit. His fellow cops know his preferences, and he gets the lousy cases. Dr. Rick Silverman who works ER at Cedars is the new guy; Larry is the stage manager with whom Milo recently broke up. Milo works with Detective Delano Hardy.

Olivia Brickerman used to work at the Department of Social Services; now she works for her nephew Steve at his practice, the Santa Monica Psychiatric Medical Group. Her husband, Al, is antisocial and passionate about chess. Gabriel is a younger son who lives in Hawaii. Ned Biondi is a senior writer for the L.A. Times who owes Alex for how he helped his daughter, Anne Marie.

Western Pediatric Medical Center is…
…where Alex used to work. Henry Bork is the smarmy medical director. Cora is in charge of the administrative offices. The snooty Dr. Lionel Willard Towle is a well-respected, established pediatrician who pushes pills with his own medical issues. Sandi is the too open receptionist; Edna is the battle-axe and right-hand gal. Lilah and Lionel Willard, Jr, had been his wife and son.

Bonita Quinn is the manager of an upscale apartment complex for M&M Properties of which Marduk “Marty” I. Minassian is president; Melody is her inactive seven-year-old. Ronnie Lee Quinn is her abusive ex-husband.

Dr. Morton Handler was a psychiatrist with few morals. Elaine “Elena” Gutierrez was his girlfriend and a fabulous Emotionally Handicapped teacher. Rafael and Andy Gutierrez are her brothers. Sra. Cruz is their mother. Raquel Ochoa was Elena’s best friend from childhood, roommate, and a fellow teacher at the school. Her brother Miguel was killed.

Some of the possible murderers/patients include Rex Allen Camblin; Peter Lewis Jefferson; Michael Penn, a nasty piece of a student (Julie is one girl he’s stringing along while he sets up Sonya Magary who owns Puff ’n’ Stuff Children’s Boutique); Lance Arthur Shattuck; Maurice Bruno, a v-p in charge of sales at Presto Instant Print; Roy Longstreth, a pharmacist who collects Icarts from whom Handler tried a little extortion; and Cpl. Gerard Paul Mendenhall.

La Casa de los Niños is…
…a children’s home for the homeless and “chronic wards of the Dependency Court”. The Reverend Augustus J. McCaffrey, a.k.a., Rev. Gus, is the director. He used to run a similar place in Mexico, Father Augustino’s Christian Home. Cary Nemeth had been thought to be mute until Elena worked with him; he had also been a resident. Other residents included Rodney Broussard. Tim Kruger is the director of counseling with a B.A. in psych and an M.A. in counseling ed. Jim Halstead is the head coach. The Gentleman’s Brigade is a group of businessmen pushed by their corporations to volunteer time at La Casa. They seem to be something of a Big Brothers group. The Honorable Edwin G. Hayden is a supervising judge of the Dependency Court.

Stuart Hickle, a retired lab technician, had been caught, a pedophile accused of harming the charges in his wife’s daycare facility, Kim’s Korner. Kim has an attack dog, Otto.

Jedson College is…
…a private college in Washington state that caters to rich families. Margaret Dopplemeier is in charge of the public relations. And don’t rock her boat! A friend, a good man, Lee, had been a Princeton graduate who couldn’t take it anymore. Professor Van der Graaf in the History Department is the oldest of the Old Guard and quite the gossip. Three students back in the day had been called the Three Heads of State behind their backs. Jeffrey Saxon had been a scholarship student and one of the few students who loved knowledge. Gretchen Chaplain had done a thesis on Brindamoor Island.

André Jaroslav has the Institute for Martial Arts in West Hollywood and consults for the movies. Bill Roberts was a reporter with National Medical News. Bettiejean is a waitress at Angela’s. A Zeigarnik effect is when people develop tension when they have unfinished business. Artie Gershman is president of Presto Instant Print; Denise is his secretary; and, Lenny is a customer. Marianne is in transcripts at the University of Oregon. Brian Adamses, any one of ‘em, is a handy way in. The boys on the ferry include Dougie, Harmon Lundquist, Matt, and Ray.

The Cover and Title

The cover is grim in its stark grayness, the only cheer coming from the young Melody Quinn in her striped jumper with the bright green short-sleeved T and brown sandals, about to rise up from her squat, long brown hair framing a face looking at us with solemnity. A long gray shadow stretches horizontally across the the cover, the only other color, a white-outlined burgundy for the title taking up the top half of the cover and the author’s name at the bottom below the shadow.

The title is from a lullaby, and When the Bough Breaks…these perverts will fall.

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