Today’s review will be a change of pace for this blog. Instead of your typical SF/F, Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten is a suspenseful murder mystery novel - hence my writing as a guest reviewer. This is her first novel, which will be on sale this fall (October 2010).
The book starts by introducing a mother, Danielle, and her autistic son, Max, at a point where the Max’s behavior is becoming violent and she decides to bring him to get more intensive care at a residential psychiatric facility in the Midwest. In the midst of this overwhelming experience Danielle and Max befriend another mother/son pair (Marianne and Jonas) who are in a similar situation, except that Jonas is much more severely challenged than Max when it comes to social interaction to the point where he is completely nonverbal.
Although this beginning is a bit tedious, things start to pick up when Danielle finds Max and Jonas alone in Jonas’s room where Jonas has been brutally stabbed to death and Max is lying on the floor unconscious, covered in Jonas’s blood, and holding the murder weapon. This obviously begets the investigation that is the focus of the book, an investigation in which both Danielle and Max are implicated. The investigation, in particular Danielle’s actions during its course, kept me intrigued until the end, which was actually a bit of a disappointment. It was like wandering down a winding road and then falling off a cliff- you follow the main character through the twists and turns of the investigation that seem to lead to more problems and more questions, and then it feels like all of a sudden everything is resolved, the end. It’s a little jarring.
I also appreciated the character development in Saving Max, although I think that something could have been added by exploring Max - or at least Danielle’s relationship with Max - more in depth. I particularly enjoyed Doaks, the retired police officer helping with the investigation, both for the comedic relief that he provided and for his believability as a character.
Should you read this?
Overall, I enjoyed Saving Max because it kept me on the edge of my seat, even if certain things were predictable, there were plenty of pieces that left me wondering, “how is she [either the author or the protagonist] going to deal with that?” Although the beginning was somewhat slow and the ending a bit harsh in terms of pace, I though the body of the book was well written and enjoyable, especially for a debut novel, and I would give it 3 out of 5 stars.