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Onyx reviews: The Murderer's Daughter by Johnathan Kellerman

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 07/26/2015

Kellerman gives Alex Delaware some much needed time off in this standalone thriller that has only tenuous ties to his primary series. Grace Blades who, as an adult, has some serious social and interpersonal issues, is the daughter to which the title refers. The murder/suicide that she witnesses as a child is just one of many occurrences that help form her personality.

Fortunately, Grace was a resourceful child and in the top percentile intellectually. She was always able to entertain and educate herself, even when the adults around her neglected or abused her. She bounced from foster home to foster home, surviving by flying under the radar until a sympathetic and ambitious social worker sent her to a ranch where she found peace, comfort and an environment in which she could blossom. Even there, though, violence paid a visit, and it is an incident from her stay there that sends her fleeing for her life years later while at the same time trying to track down the people responsible for her situation.

Thanks to the brother-in-law of the woman who ran the ranch where Grace was fostered for a while, she received an education customized to her intelligence. She went on to become a psychologist (studying under Delaware) who specializes in people like herself: survivors of violent trauma, either against themselves or loved ones. She is very good at her job—her success rate is exemplary and she has more clients than she can handle. People travel from out of town to be treated by her, so great is her skill at putting them at ease. So it isn't all that unusual when someone from Austin, Texas makes an appointment. The minute she sees him, she realizes they have a past. Two, in fact: a rather embarrassing encounter the day before and a more distant one. The man wants to atone for something, but his determination falters and he flees her office. The next day, he is found murdered and Grace decides to figure out who killed him and why.

In alternating chapters, Kellerman recounts her unauthorized investigation and the details of her childhood. Her investigation is made all the more urgent when she realizes someone is following her, leading to a violent confrontation that sends her off the radar altogether while she puts together clues and details about people with whom she had only a fleeting acquaintance but whose actions irrevocably altered the trajectory of her life. Grace's primary motive for acting like a lone wolf investigator is that she failed to reveal something to a police officer during their first interview that would reflect badly on her. Perhaps make her a suspect. Not something big enough that full disclosure couldn't have solved. 

The main problem with the book is that Grace is too good to be true. Despite her quirky, unconventional attitude toward sex and relationships, she is good at everything. She's independently wealthy, so she can pay for whatever she needs to accomplish her goals. She's even taken martial arts training so when she goes toe-to-toe with a very bad man, she can triumph. Her personal flaws aren't detrimental to her investigation. In fact, Grace isn't all that different from Delaware: she's a psychologist who takes great risks to chase down bad guys rather than cooperating with the cops. Readers will likely sympathize with her turbulent upbringing, but as an adult there's little for the reader to identify with. The couple who ultimately raise her are also selfless beyond credibility.

The plot relies heavily on coincidence and serendipity. Grace just happens to have a two-week vacation planned, so she doesn't have to worry about dodging patients while she investigates. Every important conversation where the bad guys revealed something important was overheard by someone else, who can then report on the conversation, thereby helping Grace fill in the blanks in her investigation.  Also, after escaping from one particular violent incident, there's not a great deal of risk in what Grace does. A lot of it is non-threatening research into details from the past.

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