Review #43: Devil’s Waltz by Jonathan Kellerman
The doctors call it Munchausen by proxy, the terrifying disease that causes parents to induce illness in their own children. Now, in his most frightening case, Dr. Alex Delaware may have to prove that a child’s own mother or father is making her sick.
Twenty-one-month-old Cassie Jones is bright, energetic, the picture of health. Yet her parents rush her to the emergency room night after night with medical symptoms no doctor can explain. Cassie’s parents seem sympathetic and deeply concerned. Her favorite nurse is a model of devotion. Yet when child psychologist Alex Delaware is called in to investigate, instinct tells him that one of them may be a monster.
Then a physician at the hospital is brutally murdered. A shadowy death is revealed. And Alex and his friend LAPD detective Milo Sturgis have only hours to uncover the link between these shocking events and the fate of an innocent child.
This was one of the earlier books in the Alex Delaware series, originally published in 1993 (with a super creepy cover), and yet it still stands the test of the time fifteen years later. The topic is a horrifying one indeed – Munchausen by proxy is something that most of us find appalling and unbelievable. The notion of a parent making their child sick to receive attention is beyond our understanding. Jonathan Kellerman handles the issue deftly, recognizing the ethical and clinical dilemma Dr. Alex Delaware is in when he is asked to consult on the case. Alex typically does more investigation than we would expect from a psychologist, assisted by his best buddy the always delightful LAPD detective Milo Sturgis.
As tends to happen in the Delaware series, the twists and turns abound, and nothing is as it seems. The Munchausen by proxy issue is really a proxy (hah, see what I did there?) for the larger mystery which involves high levels of corruption among the hospital bureaucracy. The novel, despite its dark topic, is not without humour which helps to make it readable and enjoyable. This is definitely one of Kellerman’s strengths and a reason I will always read his book — he can deftly make the most complicated and dark mystery engaging and interesting, while also injecting moments of lightness (usually when Alex and Milo interact). Needless to say I enjoyed this book, and I recommend it even though it is a bit older.