Richard Helms practiced as a forensic psychologist until 2002, and his personal experience adds tremendous credibility and validity to his newest forensic procedural novel.

He introduces Ben Long, now a college psychology teacher, who retired suddenly four years ago from practice and lives in al secluded mountain-topped home. He enjoys cooking good food, drinking decent wine, and listening to classical music. Unfortunately,  the new DA happens to have a history with Long, and Sidney Kingsley doesn’t intend for Long to remain in isolation.

Kingsley’s office has charged Junior Torrence with murdering his brother’s fiancee, based on his own confession. Torrence’s lawyer hires a psychologist to prove the young man is mentally handicapped and therefore ineligible for a capital trial. Kingsley needs Long to perform his own separate evaluation to prove the man is competent to stand trial. At first Long refuses, for his own very good reasons. Then a tragedy with one of Long’s students occurs and Long relents.

When Kingsley assigns savvy law clerk Paula Paige to be Long’s assistant in his evaluation, it doesn’t take her long to see she’s dealing with a different personality. She finds him prickly, more than a bit odd, with a tendency to lecture her. He avoids metaphors or anything that could be called an abstractions in his speech. In short–he creeps her out. Ben Long is brilliant, but saddled with Asperger’s disorder, an atypical type of autism.

Yet as they begin to work together, Paula’s admiration for Long’s unusual practices rises, even as she must learn to duck and swerve his unorthodox methods during testing and interviews. And at the heart of the matter is the main question: is Junior Torrence, whose “confession” is revealed to be less than reliable, even capable of committing the crime. But if he’s innocent, then a murderer is still at large.

This is as unorthodox an unraveling of a mystery as Ben Long himself. Long and Paige are well-rounded, and it’s interesting to see how Paula learns to cope with Long, even though he considers her a “neurotypical” and explains what this means: ” … your speech only reflects your thought, which is chaotic and disorganized. Facts get all bound up with emotions … You don’t ask questions because you fear others will think you an imbecile. You form your opinion based on emotion rather than what you know to be true … everything is about other people. Neurotypicals are obsessed with being social, even with people they can’t stand.”

And when Paula counters that what he’s describing is simple good manners, Long replies: Oh, balderdash. It’s called lying to yourself…” which is something Ben Long does not have the capacity to do.

Watching these two compelling characters learn to respect each other and work together is half the fun of reading this compelling novel. Watching the clues come together is done with skill and an unusual twist. Let’s hope we get to see more of both of these characters in future mysteries.

Helms credits listening to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, one of Auntie M’s favorite books which features a child with Asperger’s, as inspiring him to create his protagonist. Helms is a Derringer Award-winning author and 2011 winner of the ITW Thriller Award, who like Ben Long, teaches psychology.

You can read more about Richard Helms and his other novels at http://richardhelms.net/

 

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