Clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is one of my favorite series characters. Dealing with the daily effects of “Mr. Parkinson,” Joe is separated from the wife he still loves. Living outside Bristol near them, his life is entwined with Julianne and their two girls, Charlotte and Emily.  In Bleed for Me, Joe is waiting for his marriage to formally end, and for his own acceptance of that: “I’m still thinking about what Coop said about life leading somewhere or meaning something. Mine doesn’t. I am living in a kind of limbo, a lull in proceedings. I am waiting for my wife to have me back–when I should be seizing every day and living it like it could be my last.”

O’Loughlin understands pain and grief: of losing a child, as he almost lost Charlotte in a previous novel; of losing his functioning, as he battles his disease on a daily basis and its effects; of losing the life he thought was perfect. When Sienna Hegarty, Charlotte’s best friend, tells him “You’re kind of broken,” we understand she is telling the truth.

But is Sienna telling the truth when she insists she hasn’t killed her father? She shows up at Julianne’s home, covered in blood, and runs away. Joe goes after her and finds her, shivering and almost catatonic, on the river bank. The blood is her dead father’s, a celebrated former policeman found in Sienna’s bedroom with his throat cut. Sienna’s trauma has pushed the details of the incident away but she is convinced that she isn’t a murderer–and so is Joe O’Loughlin.

Sienna is the obvious suspect when her history with her father comes to light, yet O’Loughlin is convinced there is a more devious murderer at work. Assigned to give the court a clinical profile of Sienna, he pursues his own investigation of her father’s murder in the hope at first it will win him back Charlotte’s affection. With the aid of a retired detective, he ferrets out a widening circle of hypocrisy and crime that may do more than explain Sienna’s actions. As the plot escalates, the circle of terror widens to a crushing climax.

Robotham’s disturbing storyline is all too realistic, as are the fine characters he creates, multifaceted and complex, at times downright chilling. His story is clever and compelling, a terrific psychological thriller that has a fast pace yet at times is achingly moving. There are flashes of unexpected humor, too, as when O’Loughlin unexpectedly finds himself conversing with the man who sees himself as Julianne’s next husband and is waiting to take her out. O’Loughlin doesn’t hesitate to explain she won’t be long because she’s just upstairs “taking her medication,” and instructs her suitor not to let her order dessert–even as he admits to himself that “the love you want to save won’t survive the constraints of jealousy … Love is either equal or a tragedy.”

Author Linwood Barclay says: “Michael Robotham doesn’t just make me scared for his characters; he makes my heart ache for them.”

Don’t miss this remarkable novel that combines subtlety with an intimate knowledge of human nature and builds suspense with a masterful touch.