Jonathan Kellerman's award-winning first novel, "When the Bough Breaks," was about child molestation and family secrets. His second, "Blood Test," was about child abduction and family secrets. "Over the Edge," his third and latest, is about child persecution and family secrets. A pattern seems to be emerging here, and, surprisingly enough, it is a good one for readers.
The tough detectives of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had little time for the underaged, but in the '50s and '60s, Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer was frequently moved to action by troubled young people. And in the last few years, three hard-boiled novelists--Kellerman, Andrew Vachss ("Flood," "Strega") and Benjamin M. Schultz ("All the Old Bargains")--have limited their protagonists' activities solely to cases involving abused children.
The mystery field comes complete with its own rigid boundaries but, oddly enough, the work of these authors seems to benefit from their self-imposed parameters. Kellerman, in particular, gets better with each book, refining his style, replacing melodrama with credible situations, discovering new ways to say more with less.
In "Edge," his narrator-hero, a semi-retired psychologist named Alex Delaware, is awakened at night by a former patient, young James Cadmus, begging incoherently for help. Delaware has been harboring a bit of guilt over his failure to aid the boy in the past, and so he begins to make his own amends by investigating the circumstances that could have transformed a "difficult" boy with an unusually high IQ into a teen-age multiple-murderer whom the media has labeled, in its quaint way, "The Lavender Slasher."