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When The Bough Breaks

Jonathan Kellerman

In the first Alex Delaware novel, Dr Morton Handler practiced a strange brand of psychiatry. Among his specialties were fraud, extortion, and sexual manipulation. Handler paid for his sins when he was brutally murdered in his luxurious Pacific Palisades apartment. The police have no leads, but they do have one possible witness: seven-year-old Melody Quinn.


It's psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware's job to try to unlock the terrible secret buried in Melody's memory. But as the sinister shadows in the girl's mind begin to take shape, Alex discovers that the mystery touches a shocking incident in his own past.


This connection is only the beginning, a single link in a forty-year-old conspiracy. And behind it lies an unspeakable evil that Alex Delaware must expose before it claims another innocent victim: Melody Quinn.

Delaware has recently retired as a child psychologist after a bout with poor mental and physical health stemming from stress, especially about one particular case. He’s looking forward to a long life with much less overwork and trauma when he gets a visit from his friend LAPD cop Milo Sturgis. Sturgis wants Delaware’s help on a disturbing case he’s working. Psychiatrist Morton Handler and his lover Elena Gutierrez have been brutally murdered in Handler’s apartment. The only witness to the killings is seven-year-old Melody Quinn, and her account is both limited and somewhat incoherent. Sturgis is hoping that Delaware may be able to communicate with the child and get her to open about what she saw. Delaware isn’t any too eager to do this, but Sturgis promises it’ll be a matter of only one interview.

When Delaware tries to interview Melody he discovers that she’s heavily under the influence of Ritalin and other medication intended for children with ADHD. What’s more, her pediatrician Dr. Lionel Towle refuses to reduce her medication so that Delaware can interview her. He does manage to get some information from the child though, and establishes a kind of bond with her. He even persuades Melody’s mother Bonita to allow him to reduce the child’s medication so he can communicate better with her.

Very soon though, Melody begins having nightmares. Blaming Delaware, Towle and Bonita Quinn deny him any more access to the child. Delaware’s concerned about Melody though, and besides that, he has gotten curious about the case.

Alex Delaware is a psychologist, and both his profession and his skill at communicating are important elements in this novel. In several places in the novel, he manages to make connections with characters who are at first unwilling to talk. Melody Quinn is one example. So is Elena Guitierrez’ best friend Raquel Ochoa and so is Professor Garth Van der Graaf, Professor Emeritus at Jedson College, where some key things happened that set off the chain of events in the story. In all of these cases, Delaware is able to make people feel comfortable enough to talk to him. That makes sense and is realistic since one would have to have that kind of skill in order to be a successful psychologist.

And yet, Delaware is no superhero. That too is realistic. He makes mistakes and a few times gets in over his head as the saying goes. Still, he’s neither rash nor stupid. He’s also mercifully free of a lot of the stereotypical ‘demons’ that beset all too many sleuths. He’s in a stable relationship, he’s more or less at peace with himself, and it’s obvious that he has a commitment to those who are most vulnerable.

This novel takes place in two distinct settings. One is metropolitan Los Angeles, the other setting for the story is the Seattle, Washington area. Delaware’s trip to Washington proves to be very fruitful as he gets closer to finding the answers he wants.

When the Bough Breaks is in many ways a psychological thriller as Delaware works to find out who is behind the murders and as we find out what led to them. It’s a very sad but believable mystery featuring two likeable protagonists and some memorable secondary characters too.

Review by Margot Kinberg, Confessions of a Mystery Writer

About Jonathan Kellerman:

Jonathan Kellerman was born in New York City in 1949 and grew up in Los Angeles. He helped work his way through UCLA as an editorial cartoonist, columnist, editor and freelance musician. As a senior, at the age of 22, he won a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award for fiction. Like his fictional protagonist, Alex Delaware, Jonathan received at Ph.D. in psychology at the age of 24, with a specialty in the treatment of children. He served internships in clinical psychology and pediatric psychology at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and was a post-doctoral HEW Fellow in Psychology and Human Development at CHLA. In 1985, Jonathan's first novel, WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS, was published to enormous critical and commercial success and became a New York Times bestseller. BOUGH was also produced as a TV movie and won the Edgar Allan Poe and Anthony Boucher Awards for Best First Novel. Since then, Jonathan has published a best-selling crime novel every year, and occasionally, two a year. In addition, he has written and illustrated two books for children and a nonfiction volume on childhood violence, SAVAGE SPAWN (1999.) Though no longer active as a psychotherapist, he is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology at University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.

Jonathan is married to bestselling novelist Faye Kellerman.


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