Diagnosis Dead: A Mystery Writers of America Anthology

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780783889566
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/2000
  • Series: G. K. Hall Core Series
  • Pages: 363
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.41 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Kellerman
Jonathan Kellerman
Child psychologist-turned-novelist Jonathan Kellerman uses his knowledge of the psyche's weaknesses to create chilling crime novels, many starring detective (and former child psychologist, natch) Alex Delaware and cop friend Milo Sturgis.


"I like to say that as a psychologist I was concerned with the rules of human behavior," Jonathan Kellerman has said. "As a novelist, I'm concerned with the exceptions." Both roles are evident in Kellerman's string of bestselling psychological thrillers, in which he probes the hidden corners of the human psyche with a clinician's expertise and a novelist's dark imagination.

Kellerman worked for years as a child psychologist, but his first love was writing, which he started doing at the age of nine. After reading Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels, however, Kellerman found his voice as a writer -- and his calling as a suspense novelist. His first published novel, When the Bough Breaks, featured a child psychologist, Dr. Alex Delaware, who helps solve a murder case in which the only apparent witness is a traumatized seven-year-old girl. The book was an instant hit; as New York's Newsday raved, "[T]his knockout of an entertainment is the kind of book which establishes a career in one stroke."

Kellerman has since written a slew more Alex Delaware thrillers; not surprisingly, the series hero shares much of Kellerman's own background. The books often center on problems of family psychopathology—something Kellerman had ample chance to observe in his day job. The Delaware novels have also chronicled the shifting social and cultural landscape of Los Angeles, where Kellerman lives with his wife (who is also a health care practitioner-turned-novelist) and their four children.

A prolific author who averages one book a year, Kellerman dislikes the suggestion that he simply cranks them out. He has a disciplined work schedule, and sits down to write in his office five days a week, whether he feels "inspired" or not. "I sit down and start typing. I think it's important to deromanticize the process and not to get puffed up about one's abilities," he said in a 1998 chat on Barnes & Noble.com. "Writing fiction's the greatest job in the world, but it's still a job. All the successful novelists I know share two qualities: talent and a good work ethic."

And he does plenty of research, drawing on medical databases and current journals as well as his own experience as a practicing psychologist. Then there are the field trips: before writing Monster, Kellerman spent time at a state hospital for the criminally insane.

Kellerman has taken periodic breaks from his Alex Delaware series to produce highly successful stand-alone novels that he claims have helped him to gain some needed distance from the series characters. It's a testament to Kellerman's storytelling powers that the series books and the stand-alones have both gone over well with readers; clearly, Kellerman's appeal lies more in his dexterity than in his reliance on a formula. "Often mystery writers can either plot like devils or create believable characters," wrote one USA Today reviewer. "Kellerman stands out because he can do both. Masterfully."

Good To Know

Some outtakes from our interview with Jonathan Kellerman:
"I am the proud husband of a brilliant novelist, Faye Kellerman. I am the proud father of a brilliant novelist, Jesse Kellerman. And three lovely, gifted daughters, one of whom, Aliza, may turn out to be one of the greatest novelists/poets of this century. "

"My first job was selling newspapers on a corner, age 12. Then I delivered liquor, age 16 -- the most engaging part of that gig was schlepping cartons of bottles up stairways in building without elevators. Adding insult to injury, tips generally ranged from a dime to a quarter. And, I was too young to sample the wares. Subsequent jobs included guitar teacher, freelance musician, newspaper cartoonist, Sunday School teacher, youth leader, research/teaching assistant. All of that simplified when I was 24 and earned a Ph.D. in psychology. Another great job. Then novelist? Oh, my, an embarrassment of riches. Thank you, thank you, thank you, kind readers. I'm the luckiest guy in the world.

"I paint, I play the guitar, I like to hang out with intelligent people whose thought processes aren't by stereotype, punditry, political correctness, etc. But enough about me. The important thing is The Book."

More fun facts:
After Kellerman called his literary agent to say that his wife, Faye, had written a novel, the agent reluctantly agreed to take a look ("Later, he told me his eyes rolled all the way back in his head," Kellerman said in an online chat). Two weeks later, a publisher snapped up Faye Kellerman's first book, The Ritual Bath. Faye Kellerman has since written many more mysteries featuring L.A. cop Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus, including the bestsellers Justice and Jupiter's Bones.

When Kellerman wrote When the Bough Breaks in 1981, crime novels featuring gay characters were nearly nonexistent, so Alex Delaware's gay detective friend, Milo Sturgis, was a rarity. Kellerman admits it can be difficult for a straight writer to portray a gay character, but says the feedback he's gotten from readers -- gay and straight -- has been mostly positive.

In his spare time, Kellerman is a musician who collects vintage guitars. He once placed the winning online auction bid for a guitar signed by Don Henley and his bandmates from the Eagles; proceeds from the sale were donated to the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.

In addition to his novels, Kellerman has written two children's books and three nonfiction books, including Savage Spawn, about the backgrounds and behaviors of child psychopaths.

But for a 1986 television adaptation of When the Bough Breaks, none of Kellerman's work has yet made it to screen. "I wish I could say that Hollywood's beating a path to my door," he said in a Barnes & Noble.com chat in 1998, "but the powers-that-be at the studios don't seem to feel that my books lend themselves to film adaptation. The most frequent problem cited is too much complexity."

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    1. Hometown:
      Beverly Hills, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 9, 1949
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A. in psychology, University of California-Los Angeles; Ph.D., University of Southern California, 1974
    2. Website:


Introduction Jonathan Kellerman

Should you get a career criminal to engage in a rare moment of honesty, he may very well admit that crime is his job, and that he takes it as seriously as would any professional.

Likewise the business of catching criminals, an often plodding, picayune, migraine-inducing endeavor best left to those who get paid to do it. For, despite their shortcomings and limitations, and occasional displays of breath-taking incompetence, the boys and girls in blue and their plainclothes colleagues are almost always the sole solvers of mystery and mayhem. Private eyes are best left to squinting at adulterers behind keyholes, little old ladies in bulky cardigans wouldn't last a minute on the streets, and, when a serial killer is apprehended it's rarely -- if ever -- the result of a clever "psychological profile" expelled from the bowels of Quantico, but rather, plain, old-fashioned footwork by the unheralded local yokel gendarmes.

I am of two minds about crime stories that feature non-cops as detectives.

I despise those snotty productions where some effete, narcissistic rank amateur shows up the pros by manipulating the pieces of a silly, contrived puzzle.

Crime stories should feature cops.

All this from the guy who enlarged the theme of Shrink Detective. But though the Delaware novels obligate the reader to assume a certain measure of suspension of disbelief -- no psychologist could get in that much trouble -- my intention from the moment I constructed the first Delaware, When the Bough Breaks, was to adhere to a level of realism that wasn't at war with what I knew about the so-called criminal justice system from my experiences as an expert witness. This meant that though Dr. D.'s intelligence and training would lend him a certain degree of insight, he could never wing it as a solo act, would always have to work with a cop and within the context of the "rules." Hence Milo Sturgis, and Alex's customary role as a consultant.

On the other hand, there is something extremely compelling and appealing about crime stories that feature naifs and other innocent amateurs -- men and women caught up in Kafkaesque situations of life-threatening proportion, having to fight and/or reason their way to safety. Hitchcock exploited this theme frequently to brilliant effect, in films such as Rear Window -- based upon a short story by that maestro of paranoia, Cornell Woolrich a.k.a. William Irish -- as well as in North by Northwest, The 39 Steps, etc. Some of our finest writers, from James T. Farrell to Elmore Leonard, have taken us into the mind of the outsider grappling with the ugly side of life.

By abandoning the story restrictions and character limitations of police proceduralism, the skillfull crime writer can be freed to create themes, situations, and parodoxes that pulsate with vitality and originality.

The stories in this collection possess that freshness and inventiveness. As a group, they tend toward tough-mindedness and a dark, brooding -- but not despairing -- spirit, well in-line with The Way Things Really Are In Contemporary America. Few, if any, can be termed dizzy or cute. Nearly anything in these stories could happen. That makes them frightening.

And shouldn't crime stories be frightening?

Because even the stiffening corpulence of Colonel Blowhard's livid corpse lying face up in the musty manor house drawing room during martini hour is a terrible event. The manipulated demise of any human being bears our serious attention, if not always in compassion, at least in horrified pause.

We crime writers have chosen to explore bad stuff. Sometimes we offer the illusion of solution (I avoid that nauseating pop psych cliché closure because terrible things never close.) Sometimes we leave threads unraveled because life is rarely neat and clean. Always we wrestle with the eternal and ultimately unanswerable question: why do people do evil?

This book is a compendium of significant talent plumbing the depths of bad stuff as it intrudes upon the lives of those not paid to deal with it -- non-cop he's and she's cast, often against their will, in the role of fixer. Non-cop victims faced with conundrums they don't always solve. The protagonists in these stories occupy varied positions on The Mountain of Moral High Ground. Some you'll cheer on, others may cause you to look behind your shoulder a little more often the next time you venture out into the dark.

One way or the other, they're all doing their job.

What more can you ask?

Copyright © 1999 by The Mystery Writers of America, Inc.

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