Saving Max

Saving Max

by Antoinette van Heugten

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Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten

Max Parkman—autistic and whip-smart, emotionally fragile and aggressive—is perfect in his mother's eyes. Until he's accused of murder. 

Attorney Danielle Parkman can't deny her son's behavior has been getting worse—drugs and violent outbursts have become a frightening routine. But the diagnosis she receives from a top-notch adolescent psychiatric facility that Max is deeply disturbed—and dangerous—is too devastating to accept. 

Until she finds Max, weapon in hand, at the bedside of a fellow patient who has been brutally stabbed to death. 

Trapped in a maelstrom of doubt and fear and barred from contacting Max, Danielle's mothering instincts snap sharply into focus. The justice system is bearing down on them, so she must use her years of legal experience to find out the truth, no matter what that might be. But has she, too, lost touch with reality? Is her son truly a killer?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781460319475
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 09/24/2013
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 481,054
File size: 790 KB

About the Author

Antoinette van Heugten is a former international trial lawyer who retired to pursue a full-time career as a novelist. She lives with her husband in the Texas Hill country.

Read an Excerpt

Danielle falls gratefully into the leather chair in Dr. Leonard's waiting room. She has just raced from her law firm's conference room, where she spent the entire morning with a priggish Brit who couldn't imagine that his business dealings across the pond could possibly have subjected him to the indignities of a New York lawsuit. Max, her son, sits in his customary place in the corner of the psychiatrist's waiting room—as far away from her as possible. He is hunched over his new iPhone, thumbs punching furiously. It's as if he's grown a new appendage, so rarely does she see him without it. At his insistence, Danielle also has an identical one in her purse. The faintest shadow of a moustache stains his upper lip, his handsome face marred by a cruel, silver piercing on his eyebrow. His scowl is that of an adult, not a child. He seems to feel her stare. He looks up and then averts his lovely, tenebrous eyes.

She thinks of all the doctors, the myriad of medications, the countless dead ends, and the dark, seemingly irreversible changes in Max. Yet somehow the ghost of her boy wraps his thin, tanned arms around her neck—his mouth cinnamon-sweet with Red Hots—and plants a sticky kiss on her cheek. He rests there a moment, his small body breathing rapidly, his heart her metronome. She shakes her head. To her, there is still only one Max. And in the center of this boy lies the tenderest, sweetest middle—her baby, the part she can never give up.

Her eyes return to the present Max. He's a teenager, she tells herself. Even as the hopeful thought flits across her mind, she knows she is lying to herself. Max has Asperger's Syndrome, high-functioning autism. Although very bright, he is clueless about getting along with people. This has caused him anguish and heartache all his life.

When he was very young, Max discovered computers. His teachers were stunned at his aptitude. Now sixteen, Danielle still has no idea of the extent of Max's abilities, but she knows that he is a virtual genius—a true savant. While this initially made him fascinating to his peers, none of them could possibly maintain interest in the minutiae Max droned on about. People with Asperger's often wax rhapsodic about their specific obsessions—whether or not the listener is even vaguely interested in the topic. Max's quirky behavior and learning disabilities have made him the object of further ridicule. His response has been to act out or retaliate, although lately it seems that he has just withdrawn further into himself, cinching thicker and tighter coils around his heart.

Sonya, his first real girlfriend, broke up with him a few months ago. Max was devastated. He finally had a relationship—like everybody else—and she dumped him in front of all his classmates. Max became so depressed that he refused to go to school; cut off contact with the few friends he had; and started using drugs. The latter she discovered when she walked into his room unannounced to find Max staring at her coolly—a joint in his hand; a blue, redolent cloud over his head; and a rainbow assortment of pills scattered carelessly on his desk. She didn't say a word, but waited until he took a shower a few hours later and then confiscated the bag of dope and every pill she could find. That afternoon she dragged him—cursing and screaming—to Dr. Leonard's office. The visits seemed to help. At least he had gone back to school and, in an odd way, seemed happier. He was tender and loving toward Danielle—a young Max, eager to please. As far as the drugs went, her secret forays into his room turned up nothing. That wasn't to say, of course, that he hadn't simply moved them to school or a friend's house.

But, she thinks ruefully, recent events pale in comparison to what brings them here today. Yesterday after Max left for school and she performed her daily search-and-seizure reconnaissance, she discovered a soft, leather-bound journal stuffed under his bed. Guiltily, she pried open the metal clasp with a paring knife. The first page so frightened her that she fell into a chair, hands shaking. Twenty pages of his boyish scrawl detailed a plan so intricate, so terrifying, that she only noticed her ragged breathing and stifled sobs when she looked around the room and wondered where the sounds were coming from. Did the blame lie with her? Could she have done something differently? Better? The old shame and humiliation filled her.

The door opens and Georgia walks in. A tiny blonde, she sits next to Danielle and gives her a brief, strong hug. Danielle smiles. Georgia is not only her best friend—she is family. As an only child with both parents gone, Danielle has come to rely upon Georgia's unflagging loyalty and support, not to mention her deep love for Max. Despite her sweet expression, Georgia has the quick mind of a tough lawyer. Their law firm is Blackwood & Price, a multinational firm with four hundred lawyers and offices in New York, Oslo and London. She is typically in her office by now—seated behind a perfectly ordered desk, a pile of finished work at her elbow. Danielle can't remember when she has been so glad to see someone. Georgia gives Max a wave and a smile. "Hi, you."

"Hey." The monosyllabic task accomplished, he closes his eyes and slouches lower into his chair.

"How is he?" asks Georgia.

"Either glued to his laptop or on that damned phone of his," she whispers. "He doesn't know I found his…journal. I'd never have gotten him here otherwise."

Georgia squeezes her shoulder. "It'll be all right. We'll get through this somehow."

"You're so wonderful to come. I can't tell you how much it means to me." She forces normality into her voice. "So, how did it go this morning?"

"I barely got to court in time, but I think I did okay."

"What happened?"

She shrugs. "Jonathan."

Danielle squeezes her hand. Her husband, Jonathan, although a brilliant plastic surgeon, has an unquenchable thirst that threatens to ruin not only his marriage, but his career. Georgia suspects that he is also addicted to cocaine, but has voiced that fear only to Danielle. No one at their law firm seems to know, despite his boorish behavior at the last Christmas party. The firm, an old-line Manhattan institution, does not look kindly upon spousal comportment that smacks of anything other than the rarified, blue-blooded professionals they believe themselves to be. With a two-year-old daughter, Georgia is reluctant to even consider divorce.

"What was it this time?" asks Danielle. Her azure eyes are nubilous. "Came in at four; passed out in the bathtub; pissed all over himself."

"Oh, God."

"Melissa found him and came crying into the bedroom." Georgia shakes her head. "She thought he was dead."

This time it is Danielle who does the hugging.

Georgia forces a smile and turns her gaze upon Max, who has sunk even lower into his leather chair and appears to be asleep. "Has the doctor read his journal?"

"I'm sure he has," she says wearily. "I messengered it to him yesterday."

"Have you heard from the school?"

"He's out." Max's principal had politely suggested to Danielle that another "environment" might be more "successful" in meeting Max's "challenges." In other words, they want him the hell out of there.

Max's Asperger's has magnified tenfold since he became a teenager. As his peers have graduated to sophisticated social interaction, Max has struggled at a middle-school level. Saddled with severe learning disabilities, he stands out even more. Danielle understands it. If you are incessantly derided, you cannot risk further social laceration. Isolation at least staunches the pain. And it isn't as if Danielle hasn't tried like hell. Max had cut a swath through countless schools in Manhattan. Even the special schools that cater to students with disabilities had kicked him out. For years she had beaten paths to every doctor who might have something new to offer. A different medication. A different dream.

"Georgia," she whispers. "Why is this happening? What am I supposed to do?" She looks at her friend. Sadness is one emotion they mirror perfectly in one another's eyes. Danielle feels the inevitable pressure at the back of her eyes and fiddles with the hem of her skirt. There's a thread that won't stay put.

"You're here, aren't you?" Georgia's voice is a gentle spring rain. "There has to be a solution."

Danielle clenches her hands as the tears come hard and fast. She glances at Max, but he is still asleep. Georgia pulls a handkerchief from her purse. Danielle wipes her eyes and returns it. Without warning, Georgia reaches over and pushes up the sleeve of Danielle's blouse—all the way to the elbow. Danielle jerks her arm back, but Georgia grabs her wrist and pulls her arm toward her. Long, red slashes stretch from pulse to elbow.

"Don't!" Danielle yanks her sleeve down, her voice a fierce whisper. "He didn't mean it. It was just that one time—when I found his drugs."

Georgia's face is full of alarm. "This can't go on—not for him and not for you."

Danielle jerks back her arm and fumbles furiously with her cuff. The scarlet wounds are covered, but her secret is no longer safe. It is hers to know; hers to bear.

"Ms. Parkman?" The bland, smooth voice is straight from central casting. The short haircut and black glasses that frame Dr. Leonard's boyish face are cookie-cutter perfect—a walking advertisement for the American Psychiatric Association.

Still panicked by Georgia's discovery, she wills herself to appear normal. "Good morning, Doctor."

He regards her carefully. "Would you like to come in?"

Danielle nods, hastily gathering her things. She feels hot crimson flush her face. "Max?" asks Dr. Leonard.

Barely awake, Max shrugs. "Whatever." He struggles to his feet and reluctantly follows Dr. Leonard down the hall.

Danielle flings a terrified glance at Georgia. She feels like a deer trapped in a barbed-wire fence, its slender leg about to snap.

"Don't worry." Georgia's gaze is blue and true. "I'll be here when you get back."

She takes a deep breath and straightens. It is time to walk into the lion's den.

Danielle files into the room after Max and Dr. Leonard. She takes in the sleek leather couch with a kilim pillow clipped to it and the obligatory box of tissues prominent on the stainless steel table. She walks to a chair and sits. She is dressed in one of her lawyer outfits. This is not where she wants to wear it.

Max sits in front of Dr. Leonard's desk, his chair angled away from them. Danielle turns to Dr. Leonard and gives him a practiced smile. He smiles back and inclines his head. "Shall we begin?"

Danielle nods. Max is silent.

Dr. Leonard adjusts his glasses and glances at Max's journal. Dense notes cover his yellow pad. He looks up and speaks in a soft voice. "Max?"

"Yeah?" His scowl speaks volumes.

"We need to discuss something very serious."

Dr. Leonard takes a deep breath and fixes Max with his gaze. "Have you been having thoughts of suicide?"

Max starts and looks accusingly at Danielle. "I don't know what in the hell you're talking about."

"Are you sure?" Leonard's voice is gentle. "It's safe here, Max. You can talk about it."

"No way. I'm gone." Just as he starts for the door, he catches a glimpse of the leather journal on the corner of Leonard's desk. He freezes. His face a boiling claret, he whips around and shoots Danielle a look of pure hatred. "Goddammit! That's none of your fucking business!"

Her heart feels as if it will burst. "Sweetheart, please let us help you! Killing yourself is not the answer, I promise you." Danielle rises and tries to embrace him.

Max shoves her so hard that she slams her head against the wall and slides to the floor. "Max—no!" she cries. His eyes widen in alarm, and for a moment, he reaches out to her, but then lurches back; grabs the journal; and bolts out of the room. The slamming of the door splits the air.

Dr. Leonard rushes over to Danielle; helps her to her feet; and guides her gently to a chair. She shakes all over. Leonard then takes a seat and looks gravely at her over his glasses. "Danielle, has Max been violent at home?"

Danielle shakes her head too quickly. The scars on her arm seem to burn. "No."

He sits quietly and then puts his notes into a blue folder. "Given Max's clinical depression, suicidal ideations and volatility, we have to be realistic about his needs. He requires intensive treatment by the best the profession has to offer. My recommendation is that we act immediately."

She tries not to let him see that her breathing has become irregular. Like an animal trapped in another's lair, she has to be extremely careful about her reaction. "I'm not certain what that means."

"I mentioned this option earlier, and now I'm afraid we have no choice." His usually kind eyes are obsidian. "Max needs a complete psychiatric assessment—including his medication protocol."

Danielle stares at the floor, a prism of tears clouding her eyes. "You mean…"

His voice floats up to her very softly, very slowly.


Danielle feels her stomach free-fall. There is that word.

It is as final as the closing of a coffin.

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Saving Max 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 208 reviews.
pagese More than 1 year ago
This story completely caught me by surprise. I was expecting something completely different. The character build up is fantastic. I was never sure if Max was really crazy and commented the crime he was accused of. And Danielle was a wonderful example of the length a women would go to to protect her child. It was hard to accept her version of things. There were times I felt like yelling at her. I just wanted her to look at the facts and admit that it was possible that she was wrong. I think since she's always had such a hands on approach to her son and his well being, she refused to acknowledge that there was any possibility. There were a lot legal things that I'm not sure I agreed with. And, I thought it the end there still should have been some ramifications for Danielle's actions. But, the truth was shocking. The story was intense once the ball got rolling and didn't stop until the end.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Max is autistic, suffering from Asperger's syndrome. His lawyer Mom, Danielle Parkman, discovers, after a horrific scene in which he physically assaults her, that his journal clearly shows suicidal thoughts and reveals his use of drugs. Her career is on the line right now as she is being considered for a partnership in a prestigious legal firm, but that all goes down the drain for now as she receives the recommendation that Max needs more specialized psychiatric help. So off she goes with him to Maitland Psychiatric Center . The hell is only just beginning! After having his medications changed, Max begins to physically attack another teen patient, Jonas. Very quickly, Max's diagnosis is revealed as schizoaffective disorder, a discovery that shocks Danielle to her core. A mother's instincts are never off; but before she can do anything more, a violent incident occurs that lands Max in jail and then on trial for murder, with Danielle charged as an accessory to the crime and guilty of obstructing justice. Danielle is a fighting spirit who refuses to accept this and so with the help of a few other formidable characters begins an investigation that is riveting in its relentlessness. The outcome will stun every reader, who in no way can anticipate the real killer and accomplice. It's an outcome that makes one question the world of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, a world where human beings are exposed as the flawed and just as mentally ill individuals as the patients they treat! Saving Max is an amazing story that horrifies, grips and electrifies the reader, who will be rooting for Danielle through every rapidly turned page. At times it's hard to believe this is just a story as it seems so very real! But author, Antoinette van Heugten clearly knows what she's talking about and tells it oh so very, very well! Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on May 24, 2010
ChristysBookBlog More than 1 year ago
Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten is a frightening and suspenseful look at what a mother will do for love. Danielle Parkman has reached the end of her endurance with sixteen-year-old son Max. He's long suffered from Asperger's, an illness that is an autism spectrum disorder, but he's recently become violent toward her. When she discovered his journal with a detailed plan for his planned suicide, she feels like she has no choice but to bring him to Maitland, a well-known psychiatric facility for diagnosing mental illness. Once there, she bonds with Mariane Morrison whose son, Jonas, suffers from severe self-abuse and autism issues, but Max seems to take an immediate dislike toward Jonas and begins acting out aggressively to him. Danielle's worries escalate when Maitland diagnoses Max as being schizophrenic and refuses Danielle access to him. Then she discovers Jonas dead in his room, covered in blood, with Max lying unconscious next to him and holding the murder weapon. She snaps and her attempts to save him from being tried with the murder cause her to be charged along with him. How far will Danielle be forced to go to prove that her son is innocent of murder and what will she find in her investigation? van Heugten has tapped into a mother's worst fears and creates a terrifying and haunting suspense story. I wanted to shake Danielle for her stubborn and often illegal actions, but couldn't help admiring her unstoppable love and devotion to Max. What she discovers is beyond terrifying and evil. The writing is fast-paced and compelling is occasionally a bit graphic for my taste (I could have gone without the scene on the videotape). van Heugten's portrayal of a mother dealing with the challenges of an autistic child is inspiring and will make all readers who are moms grateful for the child they have.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Sixteen years old Max Parkmans suffers from Asperger's Syndrome though he is rather high functioning. His single mom, Manhattan attorney Danielle, worries 24/7 about her son. However, her concern goes viral when he turns violent towards her and she learns he is using drugs; her fears go stratospheric when she reads his journal as his writings and musings are violent and suicidal while the accompanying art is fiercely worse. He has turned increasingly aggressive even hitting and bruising his mom. Max's doctor suggests Danielle enroll her teen in the Maitland Psychiatric Asylum in Plano, Iowa. She has doubts, but her qualms for her son overrides all else. However, after he is welcomed, the staff informs her Max suffers from horrific schizophrenic psychosis and that to help him she must stay away. Soon afterward, Max is arrested and treated as a competent adult standing trial in the murder of another patient, and his mom also arrested as an accessory to the homicide. Saving Max will hook readers, especially the parents of a child on the Autism Spectrum. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the mother and her son arrive in Iowa and never slows down with several incredible realistic twists until the final courtroom denouement. Readers will understand how far Danielle will go to protect Max, but Antoinette Van Heugten's medical-legal thriller is his story as he struggles with his relationships with others. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is gripping. Edge of your seat good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Harlequin is marketing this as a book about autism and Aspergers. It is not! Max is eventually diagnosed as bipolar. The boy he is accused of murdering has been abused, rather than being autistic from birth. (Yes, some may consider those statements as spoilers; but, given the marketing and the reviews, I believe you, as a potential reader, deserve to know. I don't think this information will spoil the plot if you still decide to read this.) I consider this type of marketing a travesty. If you want to read Saving Max as a far-fetched mystery about a Mom who goes to audacious lengths to save her child, you might even enjoy it. (Danielle, the mother of Max, can be a very appealing character.) But this author, who has personal experience with autistic children and as a lawyer, has not given us an honest story about a subject that many of us would like to understand better, both in and of itself and for its often devastating impact on those who love the child. Shame on Harlequin, because I think Antoinette intended to write the mystery, not the book that is being marketed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved reading saving max........I'm getting ready to read THe Tulip EAters.....can't wait your next book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down and have read it several times since I bought it about 4 years ago. It is easily one of my favorite books.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leaves you always wanting to read just one more chapter before putting it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Different story with great details
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was so much better then what i thought it wouls be. Honestly at first i didnt know how it would turn out but it was honestly hard to put down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best booksive ever read. Great twist ending. Kepts me on the edge of my seat the whole yime i was reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Graet read. I couldn't wait to read the next page. Sickingly amazing
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book transformed with each page and ended with a gripping twist.
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adcamper92 More than 1 year ago
I'll be the first to say that I don't usually read for pleasure, but something about this book caught my attention. I found it impossible to put this book down. It's written with plenty of medical and judicial jargon, but it's an easy read and I feel there's an element that most people could relate to. Danielle I found is a risk taker, and will fight hell over water to protect her son. I recommend this book to any person who needs a good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Melanie_Robertson-King More than 1 year ago
What a read! I hated to have to put this one down. I found the content of Antoinette's book eerily familiar but at the same time foreign. It would have been nice to find out more about Max in the early part of the book but, that didn't take away from the storyline for me. The lengths that Danielle went to in order to save her son were extraordinary. The second part of the book kept me turning pages to find out what was going to happen next. And some of the twists, well, they were totally unexpected.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago