Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten

10th Mar 2011


Raising a child, for every mother, can be a fusion of joy, exasperation and ever-changing challenges. Raising a child with autism throws a pretty weighty spanner in the works.

Van Heugten is mother to three children, two of whom are autistic. In addition to this, she has practiced international law as a trial lawyer for fifteen years.

You get the impression that our author is on terra firma. Anything other than a feisty main character simply wouldn’t do. Fortunately for us, Danielle Parkman does not disappoint.

On the wide and often baffling spectrum of autism is 16-year-old Max who has the high-functioning kind, Aspergers. Withdrawn, dabbling in drugs and with mood spiralling downwards, an intervention to rescue him by his devoted mother, Danielle goes very, very wrong.

Max is found unconscious on the floor of a blood-spattered room in Maitland Psychiatric hospital – an institution viewed by some as the crème de la crème – in which a 17-year-old lies very still, very mutilated in a bed above him cradling what looks to be the murder weapon.

Danielle Parkman is a highly ambitious associate of an international law firm destined for partnership. For one who seeks justice as a vocation, seeking to disprove what she knows in her heart cannot be true – her son being a murderer – is the ultimate test of her mettle.

I’m not sure if our female lead could deflect bullets like Lynda Carter using her bracelets, but on the strength of this performance I wouldn’t put it past her. Thankfully, in Georgia, Van Heugten creates a friend who may have domestic issues of her own but is a vital anchor for Max and his loving mum.

In the unsavoury ex-cop Doak with his ketchup stained khakis and devil-may-care attitude,  we meet the stooge to Danielle’s cufflink wearing, silver-tongued lawyer.

They are poles apart, yet united in continually tearing their hair out due to the lengths she goes to avert Max’s fate – that’s if top paediatric psychiatrist Reyes-Moreno gets her way.

Independent, wily and willing to stop at nothing, our sleuth’s determination is both admirable and exasperating. Yet what lengths wouldn’t a mother go to to save her own flesh and blood?

Fast paced but informative, the novel explores the issue of pharmacology, malpractice, religion and technology. As the foul play unravels and with it details of ECT and restraining straps – not just restraining orders – the reader is both captivated and repulsed.

While Max’s isolation intensifies the reader can do nothing but gun for both mother and son, particularly in the last third of the book. With twists and turns a plenty, Saving Max is a thriller with edge and an ending that hits like a gavel on a block.

Saving Max was published last month by Miras. Buy it in paperback for £3.99 or for £4.55 for Kindle.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Anyone curious about or who knows someone with autism. Lovers of spunky heroines and a gripping read.

Other recommended reading: Neurogolist Oliver SacksAn Anthropologist On Mars or Patricia Highsmith‘s Deep Water.

Rebecca Smeaton


  • Jane Bradley says:

    Thanks for this review, Rebecca! Sounds like it’s in a similar vein to We Need to Talk About Kevin, or have I got completely the wrong end of the stick with that assumption? From the cover it’s not normally the type of book I’d opt for, but your review has got me all intrigued…