Breakdown, by Jonathan Kellerman*****

BreakdownBreakdown is #31 in the Alex Delaware series, and Kellerman’s long-running series still has plenty of gas left in the tank. The premise this time is that six years ago, Delaware was called in to evaluate the parental fitness of a mother; custody issues have become his bread and butter, done on a case-by-case basis. The boy’s mother, Zelda, was an actress plagued by mental health issues, but seemed to be doing a competent job of raising Ovid. The actress’s psychiatrist wanted to be sure, so he called in Delaware to spend time with the child in question. Now things have gone downhill, and the psychologist that treated Zelda is dead. Zelda isn’t doing so well herself.

But the greater question for Delaware is…where is Ovid?

I received this galley in advance thanks to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine in exchange for an honest review. I rate the novel 4.5 stars and round it up. It’s a fast read, with lots of dialogue and a fair amount of action.

The most laudable aspect of this particular novel is the way it highlights the capricious, bureaucratic manner in which state and federal funds are disbursed to supposedly care for the mentally ill. Delaware is called to what is supposed to be a temporary facility where the mentally ill are kept just long enough to be evaluated as to their own capacity to care for themselves and live independently. The place that passed for a transitional medical setting was appalling; even worse, I suspect it may have been based on something close to the truth. A couple of decades of working with at-risk teens, combined with having loved ones that have struggled with mental health issues, has left your reviewer with a dim view of the care offered to those that cannot care for themselves. If there were such a thing as an award for mental health awareness in fiction, Kellerman would be a contender.

But let’s get back to the contours of the story itself. I appreciated the level of anticipation the author built without departing so far from reality as to breach believability. Whereas previous Alex Delaware novels sometimes strained the credulity of the reader—just how much gun play and tearing after bad guys does your average kiddy shrink do, even if his best buddy is a cop?—this one was much more realistic in terms of Delaware’s role, and the light jokes made by the protagonists about having invented enough ideas for a TV miniseries brought the credibility gap out into the open, gave us a chance to laugh along with the author and better yet, with his characters. Well played!

Brief mention of headaches and personal struggles with claustrophobia make Delaware a more tangible, less Olympian personality, and of course also provide us with some foreshadowing for things to come in future novels. This is one of the better aspects of a long-running series with a faithful readership, the ability to run a thread from one novel within the series forward into another one. He’s done it before, most notably with relationship issues, and done it well.

This book is available to the public February 2, 2016, and if you enjoy a good psychological mystery, you should get a copy and read it.

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