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Onyx reviews: Flesh and Blood by Jonathan Kellerman

Lauren Teague, one of psychologist Alex Delaware's former patients, pops up in his life at irregular intervals. Her parents brought her to him as an unruly teenager with instructions to fix whatever was wrong with her. Lauren, fifteen but able to pass for twenty, is immersed in a rebellious phase—her grades have plummeted and she has become recalcitrant.

She leaves her first therapy session early, shows up late for the second one, and never comes back again. During these two brief encounters she impresses Alex with her intelligence, perception and self-awareness. Alex tries to find out why Lauren ended her therapy, but gets nowhere. She isn't his first patient to drop out.

Flash forward a few years; Alex is loitering at the fringes of a stag party for someone he barely knows. Adult movies project onto huge screens. Then the real entertainment arrives—two strippers commissioned to embarrass and tease the groom-to-be.

In an awkward moment Alex locks eyes with one of the exotic dancers. Recognition passes between them—his former patient, Lauren. She calls him for an appointment shortly after the party. Now twenty-one, stylishly dressed, she vacillates between strength and diffidence during the session. She tells him it had been her father who cut off her therapy six years earlier, even though she had been willing to continue. The session ends on an unresolved note.

Four years later, Lauren's mother calls Alex. Her daughter has been missing for a week. In the intervening years, Lauren straightened up her life and started going to university. Alex learns he had a lasting impression on the young woman—she had plans to be a psychologist.

Since Flesh and Blood is a Jonathan Kellerman novel, it is inevitable that someone ends up dead to involve Alex's friend, police detective Milo Sturgis, in the story. When Lauren is found in a dumpster, bound and killed execution-style, the police—previously loathe to investigate a missing former prostitute—finally show interest.

Though Alex has participated in many homicide investigations, Lauren's murder affects him personally. His relationship with his longtime partner, Robin, is strained when he recklessly puts himself in dangerous situations as the case becomes more complicated and dangerous.

Flesh and Blood is fairly routine Kellerman fare. The plot is satisfyingly complex, with numerous false starts and red herrings in Alex and Milo's investigation, but Kellerman mines familiar territory. The book explores Lauren's relationship with her family and how her childhood experiences translate into her adult psychology. The Electra complex features prominently, the tendency of women to seek out men who remind them of their father, and Kellerman milks this material, examining it in different permutations.

In recent novels, Robin has increasingly faded into the background and it is apparent that Kellerman is trying to do something to revitalize her character. In the end, though, she serves little more than to motivate Alex. She is someone for him to call when he works late into the night, someone who worries when he behaves recklessly.

Kellerman has definitely honed the tools of his trade over the course of fifteen Delaware novels and a pair of out-of-series books. His writing is strong and his plots are consistently clever and entertaining, but he doesn't take many risks with his characters. There is an obligatory climactic scene with Alex in mortal danger, but one might expect more emotional depth from a psychologist. Doubtless his books will continue to sell well—and there's no question they are captivating and suspenseful—but he won't attract many new readers until he is willing to explore new ground with his primary characters.

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