A Centenarian Makes the Perfect Victim in Jonathan Kellerman’s ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ [REVIEW]

Los Angeles cityscape

No one reveals Los Angeles’ darkest secrets with more style and suspense than Jonathan Kellerman. (Photo by Giuseppe Milo, Flickr)

An old lady. A child psychologist. A mysterious death. The hotel that brings them together. No, this isn’t a sequel to Bad Times at the El Royale. Instead, this is the 32nd installment of Jonathan Kellerman’s long-running Alex Delaware series, Heartbreak Hotel, and it may be the most peculiar case in his career. 

Jonathan Kellerman's HEARTBREAK HOTEL

Ballantine Books

Thalia Mars is a saucy old dame. At nearly 100 years old, she’s lived life on her own terms and still has a lot of life left in her, or at least that’s what Alex Delaware thinks when he meets her at the luxury hotel where she lives.

Charmed by her candor, humor, and vibrant attitude, the child psychologist is happy to get to know her, even though she has a seemingly morbid fascination with guilt, criminal behavior, and victim selection. These aren’t the usual topics of conversation he’d think about having with an elderly woman anyway, at least not one as effervescent as Thalia. Still, he rolls with the punches and looks forward to their next chat, where she promises to tell him the reasons behind all her questions.

Sadly, Alex never gets the opportunity, because when he returns to Thalia’s bungalow the following day, everything is quiet. Eerily so. Thalia is dead. None of it makes sense to Alex, and he needs answers. Sure she was a century old, but she didn’t show signs of being on the brink of death, no matter her age.

Now Alex and his pal LAPD detective Milo Sturgis are on the case, digging up aspects of Thalia’s life that baffle them both. For maybe she wasn’t always a sweet old lady. After all, the more they dig, the more secrets they unearth, and the more it seems like death and violence always surrounded her, in life… and in death.

Whether you’re a longtime Kellerman fan or not, Heartbreak Hotel is an absorbing mystery which quickly draws readers in, primarily because Thalia is the kind of woman I think Sinatra would have liked, a “classy broad,” as they used to say, who always had just a hint of danger about her throughout her life. And thus she makes for a fascinating woman in her sunset years. I loved meeting her in the pages of this story, and although she dies early in the book, her life story continues to unfold throughout the novel, a fact which kept me turning pages, eager to discover all her secrets.

Now, I will say that if this is your introduction to the Delaware chronicles, and if you’ve never met Alex and Milo before, you may feel a bit lost at first. Kellerman doesn’t waste words explaining their relationship here, although you can get the gist of it if you pay attention. But if you want to know all their history, you have some catching up to do and will need to invest in reading the entire series. This didn’t bother me at all, but I know some readers may find themselves scratching their heads initially. That being said, this book can stand on its own just fine, but just be aware that the finer points of their longtime relationship are spread out over 31 previous books.

All in all, Heartbreak Hotel is the perfect read for an autumn night. Light the fire, grab a blanket and warm the cider, then immerse yourself in this captivating and immersive tale culled from the legacy of one woman’s secret history. It’s a delicious read!

Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman
(Photo by Joan Allen)


Jonathan Kellerman is the number one New York Times bestselling author of more than 40 crime novels, including the Alex Delaware series, The Butcher’s Theater, Billy Straight, The Conspiracy Club, Twisted, True Detectives, and The Murderer’s Daughter.

With his wife, bestselling novelist Faye Kellerman, he co-authored Double Homicide and Capital Crimes. With his son, bestselling novelist Jesse Kellerman, he co-authored A Measure of Darkness, Crime Scene, The Golem of Hollywood, and The Golem of Paris.

He is also the author of two children’s books and numerous nonfiction works, including Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children and With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. He has won the Goldwyn, Edgar, and Anthony awards and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association, and has been nominated for a Shamus Award.

Jonathan and Faye Kellerman live in California and New Mexico. To find out more, visit him at his home on the Web at JonathanKellerman.com or like him on Facebook.

By Jonathan Kellerman
368 pgs. Ballantine Books. $28.99.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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