Cover image of "Blood Test" by Jonathan Kellerman, a complex murder mystery

Most genre authors are generalists who bring little special knowledge to their writing. There are exceptions, of course. For instance, science fiction authors who are actually scientists and the authors of police procedurals who serve, or have served, as cops. It’s unusual, though, to find a readable murder mystery centered on the technical knowledge of a highly trained professional. The best I’ve ever encountered is Blood Test, the second book in Jonathan Kellerman‘s venerable series of novels (now 31 and counting) about the psychologist Alex Delaware. Like others in the series, it’s a complex murder mystery that requires a psychologist to unravel it.

Meet Alex Delaware, a well-adjusted psychologist

As Blood Test opens, Alex Delaware is 36 years old and three years retired. (In the series’ first book, we learned that a traumatic experience in his professional life as a child psychologist led him to close his practice.) He lives on income from investments managed by a multimillionaire financial advisor who frequently operates from a yacht.

Blood Test (Alex Delaware #2) by Jonathan Kellerman ★★★★★

Alex has begun drifting back into his profession, primarily by serving as a consultant in custody cases for attorneys or the court. He is shocked back into the harsh reality he left behind in his practice when he receives a panicked phone call in the middle of the night from an incoherent former patient whom he came to know well as a twelve-year-old in a program for highly gifted children at UCLA.

The boy, now 18, has been committed to a private psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with schizophrenia. When Alex arrives at the hospital in hopes of calming him down, he discovers that the boy has escaped under puzzling circumstances. His subsequent efforts to help the boy engage Alex in an increasingly vexing case that involves horrific serial killings, the boy’s tragic early life, his wealthy and powerful aunt and uncle, a famous defense attorney, a flamboyantly gay banker, two homicidal bikers, a half-dozen preternaturally brilliant young people, and Alex’s longtime friend, Milo Sturgis, an LAPD homicide detective who is “gay, but so what?” The plot that unfolds in this complex murder mystery, a superior psychological thriller, is suspenseful to the end.

The care and feeding of schizophrenia

If you have no prior knowledge of abnormal psychology or have a taste only for novels with fast-moving action and little more, you won’t enjoy Blood Test. I loved it. Kellerman builds his story around the psychiatric understanding of schizophrenia and its treatment in the mid-1980s. Fluoxetine, widely known as Prozac, didn’t enter into medical use until 1986, the year Blood Test was published, and wasn’t marketed in the U.S. until 1988; in other words, the drug that many psychiatrists hold as responsible for the disproportionate growth of psychopharmacology wasn’t even on the market when Kellerman wrote the novel. Yet the book is built on the different approaches to the use of psychoactive drugs by two practitioners, a psychiatrist who seems never to have found a drug he didn’t love and a psychologist (Alex) who believes the mind is greater than the brain.

About the author

Clinical psychologist Jonathan Kellerman is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Psychology at University of Southern California School of Medicine. In addition to the 31 Alex Delaware novels, Kellerman has written 22 other books, five of them nonfiction.

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