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Homicidal Intent

Homicidal Intent

4.7 7
by Vivian Chern

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They told her to peer into the mind of a killer.
They didn’t say which one....

It happened in a place of privilege in New York City, when a twelve-year-old boy committed an act of violence that stunned the city and the nation. Now forensic psychiatrist Tamsen Bayn has been hired by her fiancé, who is also a lead prosecutor in the case, to


They told her to peer into the mind of a killer.
They didn’t say which one....

It happened in a place of privilege in New York City, when a twelve-year-old boy committed an act of violence that stunned the city and the nation. Now forensic psychiatrist Tamsen Bayn has been hired by her fiancé, who is also a lead prosecutor in the case, to interview the accused boy’s parents and unravel the mysterious causes of an inexplicable crime.

But when she does, Tamsen discovers something more shocking than the psychological history of a family and the pain of a deeply troubled boy. Tamsen begins to examine a shadowy connection between this crime and a pattern of violence around the country.

Suddenly Tamsen is caught between science and the law, between the man she loves and a truth she must pursue. Inside an explosive mystery that involves genius, greed, hope, and murder, Tamsen may become the most dangerous player of all: the one who knows too much....

From the Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Drawing on her experience as a forensic psychiatrist, Chern weaves an intricate debut thriller that addresses issues such as child violence, prescription drug use and family relationships. Dr. Tamsen Bayn always longed to be a famous forensic psychiatrist who would serve as an expert witness in high-profile trial cases. When her fianc?, assistant Manhattan D.A. Greg Jolson, asks her to evaluate the parents of a 12-year-old killer, Tamsen seizes the opportunity to examine the roots of child violence while boosting her career. At the same time, Tamsen lands a cushy position at Grandines Pharmaceuticals as the spokesperson for their new drug, Curixenol, an antidepressant that also treats alcoholism. As Tamsen learns more about Grandines, she slowly realizes that the company's miracle drug may have deadly side effects. Chern's prose is detailed, graced with a splash of humor and liberally sprinkled with technical terms such as suicidal ideation, vascular dementia and seizure disorder. The novel's pacing is sluggish, however, and readers will figure out what Grandines is plotting long before Tamsen begins to doubt the company's integrity. A far-fetched conclusion ties up loose ends too neatly, and although this isn't a spine-tingling, psychological thriller, it's a solid first attempt. (Sept. 11) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Read an Excerpt

I was defrosting in the bathtub on the coldest and snowiest night of the year. The tub was a little crowded. I perched my feet on Greg’s chest, wiggled my toes, and admired the pedicure I had gotten that morning. Greg didn’t even crack a smile.

“What?” I said.


“I thought you liked this time of year. The lights, the decorations. I feel like a little kid.”

“You don’t want to be a kid these days.” Greg splashed some water on his face, rinsing off the bubbles. “I got a new case today.”

“That boy?” I asked, knowing immediately the one he meant. The city hadn’t announced its final choice of prosecutor yet, but I had suspected that the case might become Greg’s. Despite his dark coloring, in the district attorney’s office he was the proverbial fair-haired boy.

“Yeah. Can you imagine? Barely twelve and already a murderer. And he’s being tried as an adult — by me. It’s going to be tough.” He picked up a handful of bubbles and slathered them on his face, as if donning a mask to hide his defeated expression.

I watched the steam rise toward the ceiling. Maybe love wasn’t enough to counterbalance the sordid events and disturbed people that were our daily bread. Every day, something new happened that I found impossible to forget. Sometimes I wondered when my brain would run out of room for my collection of horrors.

“What’s he like?”

“The Devinski boy? Seems like a regular kid. Kind of angry.”

“Did you meet the parents?”

“Not yet. I don’t think they want to talk to me. They are only communicating through their lawyer.”

Greg paused, and I waited for what I knew would be his next words.

“I can’t wait to go up against her.” His usual enthusiasm crept back into his voice, exactly as I had expected. Natalie Diamond was well-known as an ambitious, utterly ruthless criminal defense lawyer. She was very much in demand by New York’s criminals, at least those who could afford her astronomical fees. The fact that the Devinskis had retained her to represent their son had been on the news within hours of the school shootings. But what worried me wasn’t her legal prowess or that she was going to make Greg’s life miserable in court.

“Any chance that he’ll plead guilty and spare you the trial? After all, everyone knows that Jason Devinski shot those girls. A hundred witnesses saw him.”

“I think they’re going to go for your favorite defense.”

“An insanity defense? He’s only twelve. By definition, I would say he doesn’t have the same capacity as an adult to distinguish right from wrong. But the chance of him being mentally ill ... I don’t think so.”

I worked with some pretty shady characters in my private forensic psychiatry practice. The criminally insane were always challenging and never boring. But I rarely worked with children and had never been involved with either the prosecution or the defense of child murderers.

“Are the parents divorced?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” Greg said, with a strangely satisfied look on his face.

“It’s a horrible case. And bizarre. So many kids killing other kids, or their parents, or even strangers, lately. And all of them have been out in the boondocks. Here in the city, I guess I thought we were at least immune to murderous children.”

“A lot of cases in Arkansas and Michigan.” Greg ticked off the locations on his fingers as he spoke. His nails were bitten even lower than usual. “One in Ohio, one in Oregon. I’m probably missing some. Don’t forget Colorado, the worst one. And now this one, in Manhattan.”

“Somehow, I never thought that we’d have a kid shooting into a crowd in New York. School shootings always seemed like a problem that wouldn’t reach us here.”

“It’s a national trend now. I wonder why.”

The water had started to get cold, and the romantic aspect of our shared bath had chilled off long ago, when we started talking about Greg’s case. I was a bit disappointed that our bathroom had just become our home office. Now I was not only thinking about Jason Devinski, the murdering little boy, but simultaneously of Natalie Diamond, the famous photogenic lawyer. I wanted to remind Greg that I had an exciting and glamorous career too. Or at least to remind myself.

“I got a job offer today,” I said as I got out of the tub and reached for my bathrobe. Greg was right behind me, eager to relight whatever flames had been doused by the bathtub conversation.

“Doing what?” he asked, standing close behind me and kissing my neck.

“I got a call from this pharmaceutical company. They asked me if I was interested in being a consultant for them.” See, I’m cool and important too, I was saying. “They even said they’re going to send some opera tickets over for us. As a sort of bonus.”

Greg wasn’t listening. He kept kissing. “Tell me later. You know what they say about all work and no play.” I didn’t point out that one of the perks of private practice was the ability to control my own schedule, and that I had taken the opportunity to give myself a week off, starting about two hours ago.

“You’re going to be seeing a lot of Natalie Diamond,” I said, stepping away.

“Are you upset about that?”

I couldn’t say anything. Guilty as charged.

“Tamsen, let’s get this straight right now. Natalie and I are on opposing sides of this case. I barely know her.”

“I know,” I said. “I’m just je'n'secure.” It was a word we had invented, meaning “pretentious and insecure.”

“Okay, so now where were we?”

“They wanted a consultant for their new medication,” I said.

“That’s not what I meant.”

I had almost forgotten what I wanted to tell him when I heard the intercom buzz from the kitchen. I was tempted to ignore it, but women have difficulty ignoring stimuli like crying babies and ringing doorbells. It’s an evolutionary protection for advancement of the species.

“Yes?” I shouted into the intercom, while Greg reached for his sweatpants.

“There’s a gentleman here to see you,” the doorman said. “A Mr....” He conferred with somebody. “Mr....” The doorman made a sound that sounded like a growl with a cough in the middle of it. “Can I send him up?”

“I don’t know him. I don’t know who he is.” I was still a bit disoriented. The blood that had rushed away from my brain was having trouble finding its way back.

I heard voices in the background again, then a new voice, deep and resonant despite the distortion of the intercom system, said, “Dr. Bayn? I’m an associate of Ginny Liu’s. May I come up?” Ginny Liu was the pharmaceutical company representative who had stopped by my office earlier that morning, bearing gifts of pens, drug samples, and encouragement for me to provide the requested few hours a week of psychiatric consultation for her department. The voice must belong to the messenger who’d brought over the promised opera tickets.

“Come on up,” I said reluctantly, and ran into the bedroom to put on some clothes.

When the bell rang a few minutes later I had put on some fuzzy leggings and an oversized sweatshirt, cozy hanging-out-at-home-why-are-you-interrupting-me clothing. People in this city don’t just casually drop in on each other, especially not on Christmas Eve, and especially when you’ve never even met them. Why couldn’t whoever it was have just left the envelope with the doorman?

I opened the door to a tall, well-preserved middle-aged man. He wore a snow-dusted black cashmere overcoat and held an expensive-looking pair of leather gloves, the kind with the stitches hidden on the inside. He didn’t look like a messenger.

“Dr. Bayn, thank you so much for seeing me.” He held out his hand, which was as smooth and manicured as his tanned face. His smile revealed perfect white teeth but didn’t seem to reach his blue eyes. The man looked as perfect, and as nondescript, as a crash-test dummy. “Parker Grandines. Ms. Liu found you for us.”

“Grandines?” I repeated. I shook his hand, sure that surprise was written all over my face. I’ve never been good at poker, and not just because I keep forgetting the rules. “You mean you own the company?” In response, he handed me a card: Parker Grandines, Chief Executive Officer, Grandines Pharmaceuticals.

“Grandines is a privately held company,” he replied. “It’s been in my family for, oh, two hundred years, in one form or another.”

“Umm. What a ... surprise. That you’re here, I mean. To see me.” Surprise was putting it mildly. It’s a wonder I didn’t tip over and fall unconscious, from the shock of having the CEO of Grandines Pharmaceuticals appear on my welcome mat.

I was looking at a rich man, Old Money, the kind of person I read about but only occasionally met.

I took his fancy coat and offered him a seat on our sofa.

“I know how unusual this must seem to you,” Mr. Grandines said.

I nodded. Greg stood in the hallway leading to the bedrooms, watching us. I didn’t think that Mr. Grandines had noticed him.

It went against everything I had been taught since birth to not offer Grandines a drink or coffee, but I hadn’t invited him and the suspense, as they say, was killing me. Greg disappeared from my view for a moment. When he returned, he had put on a shirt. He came right over to introduce himself.

“Ah, yes, the prosecutor,” Grandines said, nodding. “Quite a case you’ve got there.” It seemed like everyone in the world but me had watched the news and already knew that Greg was prosecuting Jason Devinski.

“May I offer you a drink?” Greg asked in his best unaccented English.

Grandines asked for a scotch, which went with the perfectly tailored dark suit and, of course, those gloves. I was amazed when I saw Greg pour two glasses from a bottle that I knew had been a gift from a victim’s father, a hundred-dollar bottle of scotch that had been a thank-you for a life sentence without parole. Greg brought me a glass of red wine. What a lovely intimate holiday gathering.

“When Ginny mentioned that you were a forensic psychiatrist” — Grandines paused briefly for a sip of scotch — ”I didn’t understand why she thought you’d be appropriate for us.”

“Ah, you were wondering about how dead bodies and tracking down psychotic killers fit into your marketing plan,” I said.

Greg laughed. Grandines’s unspoken question was one I answered practically every day. “Forensic psychiatry is the application of psychiatry to legal matters. The word ‘forensic’ comes from Latin; it means ‘in the forum.’ ‘Pathology’ is when you cut up dead bodies.” I paused, then added mischievously, “Of course, most pathologists don’t actually cut up dead bodies. They interpret slides from the tissues of people who are still alive. And who hope to stay that way.”

Now I’d confused him thoroughly. I almost laughed. Sometimes I felt like I was on a mission to teach people the meaning of the word “forensic.” Once they heard it, they rarely heard the word “psychiatry” following it. Everyone automatically thought of scary stories featuring serial killers, and old television shows featuring wise medical examiners.

“Now I know,” Grandines said. “And we felt that your experience testifying in court and explaining psychiatric concepts in words that the average citizen could understand would be perfect for us. We just lost our previous psychiatrist, after almost fifteen years. Our team leader, actually. We need someone to work with our Curixenol team. Ms. Liu thought you’d be perfect. It’s a part-time job, ten to twenty hours a week. We wanted someone fairly young, you know, and, ahem, attractive.” He looked at Greg, who just smiled back pleasantly.

“What’s the emergency?” I was flattered that they wanted me, but I was suspicious. What’s the catch? was the question I was really asking.

“Well, you know that Curixenol is going to be launched right after the first of the year,” Grandines answered. “There will be press conferences, newspaper stories, lots of attention focused on our revolutionary new product. We thought it best that our spokesperson be a physician, a psychiatrist. We don’t require anyone with pharmaceutical-industry experience.”

He mentioned an hourly rate that almost made me fall off the sofa. I glanced at Greg, who shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Do whatever you want.”

“We particularly like your forensic background,” Grandines told me. “Not that we anticipate any legal problems with this drug. But we like having somebody who knows how to talk to lawyers.” He said it with such a straight face that I couldn’t even meet Greg’s eyes for fear of bursting out laughing. Greg and I had passed the talking stage long ago.

“Could I think it over for a couple of days?” I didn’t need to think about it. I was always looking for extra work that paid well, that was flexible and clean and didn’t involve filling out endless forms. My plan was to be a successful famous forensic psychiatrist by the time I was forty, the kind of expert witness who’d get called to evaluate people who try to kill the president, or who lead cults or hijack airplanes. Any media exposure would help me reach my goal.

“That would be fine,” Parker Grandines said. “Fine. Again, I truly apologize for barging in like this, but it was impossible to find a messenger on Christmas Eve, and I was in the area. It was a pleasure to have the chance to meet you for myself.”

He stood up to leave, and as he put on his coat he pulled an envelope out of a pocket. “Oh, yes, I almost forgot. I wanted to give you these tickets that Ms. Liu promised you. To the Met, next week. After the dinner. You will be attending, won’t you?”

“We’ll be there,” Greg said, probably noticing that I was too astonished to speak. “Thank you.”

We showed Grandines out, then went into our tiny kitchen. I poured myself another glass of wine and sat at the kitchen table to watch Greg cook.

“I can’t believe he came here. Why would he? These important CEO types never get involved with lowly psychiatrists like me.”

“Wouldn’t you have met this guy at the dinner, anyway?” Peppercorns crunched beneath the blade of Greg’s knife.

“No. Those dinners are marketing things. The main guys would never come to an event like that. They have salespeople who run them, like Ginny Liu.”

The dinner Grandines had referred to was coming up the following week, in a well-reviewed restaurant. All the pharmaceutical companies liked to arrange dinners, outings, and activities where a bunch of doctors would be a captive audience. They would use the time that we spent devouring our entrées and desserts to pitch — and push — their products. Occasionally the drug companies would throw in a bonus, like a concert or a show. But as physicians, we understand the attempted seduction to be exactly what it is: advertising. The company bigwigs never attend those programs, and Grandines hosted dinners for their one other psychiatric drug regularly.

The drug company dinner probably wouldn’t be as good as the dinner I was about to eat. I sat silently sipping my wine as Greg trimmed the steaks of fat and speculated about what would make the president of a company make a house call on Christmas Eve.

“It must be part of their marketing campaign,” he decided. “Or maybe there’s some regulation that they have to have a physician on their team, or something like that.” Now he was coating the steaks with the peppercorns he’d crushed earlier. He poured oil into the pan and, after a few moments, added the steaks, which sizzled so loudly I couldn’t hear his next words.

From the Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Vivian Chern is a board-certified forensic psychiatrist who has found her niche working within the New Jersey prison system. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, and she trained at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the State University of New York at Buffalo, followed by the Fellowship Program in psychiatry and law at New York University. Vivian lives with her husband, three sons, and a large bull mastiff in New Jersey.

From the Paperback edition.

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Homicidal Intent 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Well written, kept my interest to the lasr page! A must read for thos who love thrillers with medical entwkned!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The most comprehensive, interesting and knowledgeable medical thriller I've ever read. Smart, sophisticated, and polished; a good read. Vivian Chern has done it. She has broken through the writing barrier with her first of many to come. Homicidal Intent; its intent to keep you on the edge of your seat; and it does. The topic ripped from the headlines, will leave you wondering if this could be the cause of so many kids killing kids. Interesting and timely. I can't wait for more adventures from Dr. Tameson Bayn as she delves deep in to the psyche of other killers.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Well-behaved twelve-year-old Jason never gave his parents any trouble. Yet one day he walked into his school with a gun and calmly killed three people (two students and a teacher) and injured another student. He then calmly put the gun down and went over to table and grabbed some popcorn. The city of New York is horrified that something like this could happen at such an upscale school.

The prosecutors want to try him as an adult but even they want to know what triggered this unprovoked attack. The lead prosecutor on the case asks his live-in fiancee, Tamsen Bayn to evaluate the child¿s parents. At the same time she agrees to help, she also plans to represent Grandines Pharmaceuticals with their new drug that is coming out on the market in a few weeks. While taking it, alcoholics won¿t have the urge to drink. As people connected to Grandines start dying, Tamsen begins the dangerous game of sleuthing which leads to a possible link between the two cases and a possible acquittal for Jason.

This is an exciting medical thriller in which appearances are deceiving and what you know probably will kill you. It is the tale of ruthless men who will do anything to attain their goals and it is the story of one doctor acting as the Lone Ranger trying to stop them. Both the heroine and the villains are believable helping make the story line reminiscent of the works of Robin Cook and Michael Palmer.

Harriet Klausner