Amazingly, "Therapy" is Jonathan Kellerman's third intelligent and gripping suspense novel in less than 12 months -- which is more than many of his fellow Brand Name Authors on the best-seller list can claim in their careers.
Kellerman has been on a creative roll of late, writing the best books of his career. Fueled by his outrage at various abuses of authority and cultural decay in contemporary society, Kellerman has found plenty of juicy targets that give his mysteries depth and relevance beyond their considerable entertainment value.
Best of all, unlike Dean Koontz, Kellerman never lapses into preaching; he makes his points subtly and within the story's context so the medicine goes down painlessly with the spoonful of sugar being a terrific plot.
Psychologist Alex Delaware and his best friend, Detective Milo Sturgis of the LAPD, are having dinner when Milo learns of a nearby homicide. "It's been a while since I had a nice little whodunnit," he jokes.
At the scene are a slain young couple in a car. The man, Gavin Quick, is the son of a outwardly wealthy metals dealer, but the identity of the flashily dressed woman is unknown.
The woman was both shot and impaled, which, it turns out, is similar to another killing, though the first victim -- a conservative, shy, small-town schoolteacher -- could hardly be more different. Because of the psychopathic nature of the crime, Milo, as usual, enlists Alex's help.
A link between the two victims is found when interviews with the families turns up that they both saw the same therapist, Mary Lou Koppel, a minor radio and TV personality. Koppel is nonplussed by the connection and blows it off as a statistical blip. Claiming client confidentiality, she is no help in the investigation --until she shows up as the next victim.
The first half of "Therapy" is a very methodical story, with the heroes untangling motives and following leads through the twisted lives of the semi-rich and famous. Especially memorable are Quick's nervously nutty mother, and Koppel's extremely generous ex-husband, a commercial properties tycoon.
The plot suddenly but smoothly switches gears about halfway through, becoming suspenseful and violent as such diverse elements as genocidal killers and Medi-Cal fraud schemes enter the mix.
Kellerman, a former psychologist, has been critical of his erstwhile profession and academia before, but "Therapy" is his most stinging slap yet. From massive fraudulent billing for court-required group therapy that would be dubious even if it was being performed to a hate group led by a U.N. human rights inspector who covers up for genocidal maniacs, Kellerman skewers his targets with accuracy and a little relish.
The current media feeding frenzy over prisoner abuse in Iraq by outlets that yawned at Saddam's mass graves makes his latter point especially relevant.
Few best-selling authors get better nearly 20 years after becoming a brand name. Most buckle under the pressure of delivering books quickly to the eager market, and the quality is the first thing to go.
Kellerman is not only getting better, but he's more prolific as well. That's an extraordinary combination -- and great news for those who crave substance with their thrills.