Heartbreak Hotel

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Ballantine Books, 2017 - Fiction - 368 pages
8 Reviews
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * Alex Delaware and LAPD detective Milo Sturgis investigate the death of Alex's most mysterious patient to date in the sensational new thriller from the master of suspense, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman.

At nearly one hundred years old, Thalia Mars is a far cry from the patients that child psychologist Alex Delaware normally treats. But the charming, witty woman convinces Alex to meet with her in a suite at the Aventura, a luxury hotel with a checkered history.

What Thalia wants from Alex are answers to unsettling questions--about guilt, patterns of criminal behavior, victim selection. When Alex asks the reason for her morbid fascination, Thalia promises to tell all during their next session. But when he shows up the following morning, he is met with silence: Thalia is dead in her room.

When questions arise about how Thalia perished, Alex and homicide detective Milo Sturgis must peel back the layers of a fascinating but elusive woman's life and embark on one of the most baffling investigations either of them has ever experienced. For Thalia Mars is a victim like no other, an enigma who harbored nearly a century of secrets and whose life and death draw those around her into a vortex of violence.

Heartbreak Hotel is classic Delaware and classic Kellerman.

Praise for Heartbreak Hotel

"Easy to dive into for mystery fans unfamiliar with the series, and a welcome treat for readers who have been with Officer Sturgis and Dr. Delaware since the beginning."--Booklist

Praise for Jonathan Kellerman

"Jonathan Kellerman's psychology skills and dark imagination are a potent literary mix."--Los Angeles Times

"Kellerman doesn't just write psychological thrillers--he owns the genre."--Detroit Free Press

"A master of the psychological thriller."--People
 

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - Olivermagnus - LibraryThing

Heartbreak Hotel is the thirty-second book in a series featuring child psycholigist Alex Delaware and his police investigator buddy Milo Sturgis. This novel starts with Alex being contacted by 99-year ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - gmmartz - LibraryThing

Jonathan Kellerman can probably write great psychological mystery/thrillers in his sleep. Heck, he may have even written his latest, 'Heartbreak Hotel' in his sleep, for all I know. I don't care, I ... Read full review

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About the author (2017)

CHAPTER

1

I lead a double life.

Some of my time is spent using the doctorate I earned: evaluating the mental health of injured, neglected, or traumatized children, making recommendations about parental custody, providing short- term treatment. My own childhood was often nightmarish and I like to think I''m making a difference. I keep my fees reasonable and bills get paid.

Then there''s the other stuff, initiated by my best friend, an LAPD homicide lieutenant. Once in a while my name leaks into a news story. Mostly I keep out of public view. I doubt any of the families I see are aware of the murders I work on. They''ve never commented on it and I think they would if they knew.

When my invoices finally make their way through the LAPD bureaucracy, I may get paid at an hourly rate far below my office fee. Sometimes those bills are ignored or rejected outright. If my friend finds out, he makes noise. His success clearing homicides is first- rate. Getting me paid for my time, not so much.

Business- wise, the other stuff doesn''t make much sense. I don''t care.

I enjoy seeing bad people pay.

What began on a Monday morning in early June seemed to have nothing to do with either half of my life.

Go know.

The answering service operator was a new hire named James, with a shaky voice and a way of turning statements into questions that implied self- esteem issues. Either he hadn''t been trained in handling non- emergency calls or he was a poor student.

"Dr. Delaware? I''ve got someone on the line, a Ms. Mars?"

"Don''t know her."

"That''s her name? Mars? Like the candy bar?"

"Is it urgent?"

"Um . . . I don''t know, Dr. Delaware? She does sound kind of . . . weak?"

"Put her on."

"You bet, Dr. Delaware? Have a great day?"

A faint voice as dry as leaf dust said, "Good morning, Doctor. This is Thalia Mars."

"What can I do for you, Ms. Mars?"

"My guess is you don''t do house calls but I''ll supplement your fee if you see me at my home."

"I''m a child psychologist."

"Oh, I know that, Dr. Delaware. I''m well aware of the wonderful work you did at Western Pediatric Medical Center. I''m a great fan of the hospital. Ask Dr. Eagle."

Ruben Eagle worked with Western Peds'' poorest patients as head of outpatient services and was routinely ignored by hospital fundraisers because the day- to- day maladies of the uninsured couldn''t compete for headlines with heart surgery, kidney transplants, and whiz-

bang cellular research.

Had he sent this woman to me as a way of stroking one of the few donors he had? It wasn''t like Ruben to politick without asking me first.

"Dr. Eagle referred you to me?"

"Oh, no, Doctor. I referred myself."

"Ms. Mars, I''m not clear about what you want-- "

"How could you be? I''d explain over the phone but that would take up too much of your valuable time. Once we get together, my check will include whatever charge you decide is appropriate for this call."

"It''s not a matter of billing, Ms. Mars. If you could give me a basic explanation about what you need-- "

"Of course. Your work suggests you''re an analytic and compassionate man and I could use both. I''m not a nut, Dr. Delaware, and you won''t need to travel far. I''m at the Aventura Hotel on Sunset, a short drive from you."

"You''re visiting L.A.'"

"I live at the Aventura. That''s a bit of a tale, in itself. Would an initial retainer of, say, five thousand dollars set your mind at ease? I''d offer to wire it directly to you but that would require asking for your banking information and you''d suspect some sort of financial scam."

"Five thousand is far too much and there''s no need for a retainer."

"Don''t you take retainers when you work for the courts?"

"Sounds as if you''ve researched me, Ms. Mars."

"I try to be thorough, Doctor, but I promise you there''s nothing ominous at play. The hotel''s a semi- public place and the front desk knows me well. Is there any way you could meet me today, say at three p.m.' You''d avoid rush- hour traffic."

"What if I told you I had a prior appointment?"

"Then I''d request another time, Doctor. And if that failed, I''d beseech you." She laughed. "There is an issue of time. I don''t have much of it."

"You''re ill-- "

"Never felt better," said Thalia Mars. "However, on my next birthday I will be one hundred."

"I see."

"If you don''t believe me, when we get together I''ll show you my last active driver''s license. Flunked the test when I turned ninety- five and have depended, since, on the kindness of others and their internal combustion engines."

My turn to laugh.

"So we''re on for three, Dr. Delaware?"

"All right."

"Fabulous, you''re analytic, compassionate, and flexible. The front desk will direct you."

CHAPTER

2

As soon as the line cleared, I phoned the Aventura.

Miss Mars is here. Would you care to be put through?

No, thanks.

My next call was Ruben. At a conference in Memphis. The Internet had nothing to say about Thalia Mars. No surprise, I supposed. She''d lived most of her long life before techno- geeks decided privacy was irrelevant.

I spent the rest of the morning writing reports, broke at one p.m., slapped together a couple of turkey sandwiches and brewed iced tea, brought a tray out to the garden. Pausing by the pond, I tossed pellets to the koi, continued to Robin''s studio.

Two projects occupied her workbench, a gorgeous two- hundred- year- old Italian mandolin restored for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an electric contraption that resembled a giant garden slug.

The grub- like thing was part cello, part guitar, and dubbed the Alienator by the aging British rocker who''d commissioned it. Forced to learn classical violin as a kid, the invariably drunk Clive Xeno wanted to try his hand at bowing heavy metal. Per his insistence, the instrument was finished in metal- flake auto paint the color of pond sludge. An enamel- tile portrait of Jascha Heifetz protruded below the bridge, showing the maestro looking skeptical.

Robin, hair kerchiefed, wearing a black tee and overalls, was holding the monstrosity up to the skylight and shaking her head.

I said, "The customer''s always right."

"Whoever coined that never met Clive. Ah, lunch. You''re a mind reader."

Blanche, our little blond French bulldog, rose from her basket, waddled over, and rubbed her head on my ankle. I put the sandwiches on a table and fetched her a stick of jerky from the treat bag.

Robin gave the slug another look. "Five hundred hours of my life and I end up with this."

"Think of it as an avant- garde masterpiece."

"Isn''t ''avant- garde'' French for ''weird''?" Washing her hands, she kissed me, tossed a drop cloth over both instruments, untied her hair, and let loose a cascade of auburn ringlets. "This is after I convinced him to tone it down."

"No more penis- shaped headstock."

"That and Heifetz doing something gross. How''s your day going?"

"Finished some reports and heading out in a couple."

"Milo beckoned?"

"I''m going to see a woman who claims to be nearly a hundred and wants to talk."

"Claims to be? Like she''s only ninety- eight and is being pretentious?"

I laughed. "No reason to doubt her."

"She introduced herself that way? I''m almost a hundred."

"She worked it into the conversation."

"Why not?" she said. "Last that long, you''d want to strut your stuff. My great- aunt Martina lived until ninety- eight and advertised it in every conversation. ''Canned green beans, anyone? Been eating them for ninety- eight years and I''m still breathing.'' "

She picked up a sandwich, nibbled, put it down. "Delicious, you''re the perfect man . . . so why would a hundred- year- old chick call you?"

"She didn''t go into details."

"But you agreed to do a house call?"

"She''s one of Ruben Eagle''s donors."

"So you do a good deed and get to escape the office. It has been a while since the Big Guy called. I''ve been wondering when it would get to you."

"I''ve been restless?"

She kissed my nose. "No, darling, but I know you. The crime rate falls, good for society, boring for you."

She took another bite of sandwich. "A hundred years old, huh? Imagine the things she''s seen."

When you''ve lived in a city for years, there''s no need to know much about hotels. Robin and I sometimes ate or drank at the Bel- Air and back in my hospital days I''d attended fundraisers at Hiltons and such. My exposure to the Aventura had been driving west on Sunset and passing a directional sign staked at the mouth of an entrance framed by palms. First time for everything.

The opening fed to a cobblestone drive. The palms were overgrown, bordering on unruly. A second sign legislated 5 MPH. Speed bumps placed every twenty feet enforced the rule. Combine

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