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Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifDell Books (Paperback), ISBN 0-440-23720-3
Vivian Chern opens her debut mystery with a confession: "I killed Jessica and Hannah. I killed Miss Lopez. I had to." The remainder of the book takes readers on a hunt to find out why the speaker, 12-year-old Jason Devinski, felt compelled to kill his friends, classmates and favorite teacher.

Book: David Chern, Homicidal IntentDevinski's misfortune creates an unprecedented opportunity for Dr. Tamsen Bayn. The prosecutor on the Devinski murder trial happens to be Tamsen's fiance, assistant Manhattan D.A. Greg Johnson. Greg offers Tamsen the chance to serve as the forensic psychiatrist on the case. Lady Luck's smile broadens when Grandines Pharmaceuticals recruits Tamsen as spokesperson for their new drug, Curixenol. The drug, a miraculous breakthrough, treats depression and alcoholism. Miracle drug or too good to be true? Tamsen must find out which.

After years of struggle, in a single week, Tamsen's career skyrockets -- and her income along with it. But, as she interviews Jason and his parents, and looks deeper into Grandines, questions surface that demand answers. The answers could send her career crashing back to earth. Yet Tamsen pursues truth and justice over lucre and fame.

The author takes us to hallowed bastions of corporate greed as well as into the inner workings of forensic psychiatry. The liberal sprinkling of techno-terms such as "suicidal ideation," "vascular dementia" and "seizure disorder" promotes a sense of realism. Chern draws on her own experiences as a forensic psychiatrist. But her examples of corporate greed reflect more stereotypic sources.

Chern incorporates events in the headlines: children's acts of violence, and the uses and abuses of prescription drugs. Family relationships thread around and through these volatile and baffling topics. The conclusion -- a bit of a stretch and way too perfect -- nevertheless leaves readers pondering concerns about our children's welfare and who plays god with our lives.

Sadly, Tamsen proves a bit dense, and most aficionados of the mystery genre will solve the puzzle by page 50. Yet Chern's writing abounds with humor, details and a voice that keeps readers turning pages. The treatment of the topics offers a fresh view and some outside-of- the-box speculation, making this a solid first novel and a good foundation on which to base a series.

 

Dawn Goldsmith

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