WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS
The narrator-sleuth in this rather overwrought psycho-mystery is L.A. child psychologist Alex Delaware, who's "retired" (at 33) after having something of a nervous breakdown--following his consultant work on a harrowing child-molestation case. (Alex discovered the suicide-ravaged body of the molester in his office.) It's very reluctantly, then, that Alex agrees to help his pal, gay cop Milo, with a murder case: psychiatrist Morton Handler and girlfriend have been killed in his apartment, and the only witness who saw the killer is emotionally fragile child Melody--the daughter of the apartment-complex manager. Meanwhile, the Milo/Alex sleuthing focuses on Handler's patients and on his girlfriend--both of whom turn out to have connections to La Casa de Los Ninos, a home for disturbed/retarded children. Furthermore, little Melody's pediatrician--a big wheel in M.D. circles--has strong connections to La Casa too! Could all this be just a coincidence? Alex thinks not; as more gruesome corpses proliferate, he does some checking into La Casa's guru, his staff, and their brigade of volunteers. Eventually all the leads converge on an elite island-community due north, the hometown of several suspects. . . and of that child-molester found dead in Alex's office! (But was it really suicide?) So finally, after a routine car-chase, more fatalities, and a kidnapping, Alex figures out the motivations behind the killings (some blackmail, some coverups)--while exposing a child-molestation ring involving all sorts of flashy, famous, well-bred people. Unfortunately, though a few of the final twists are surprising (and implausible), the basic secret is apparent very early on; Alex's narration is marred by irritating, holier-than-thou psychology-lectures; and the group-portrait of child-molesters here has a glamorized, sensationalized, simplistic aroma. Still, for readers with a taste for the slightly gothic and the very gritty, this is ugly, busy entertainment--if too hyped up to work as a grimly real reflection of recent headlines involving child abuse.