Mystery writer Alex Matthews’s latest novel, Vendetta’s Victim, opens not with a crime but with an argument. Her protagonist is a thirtysomething psychotherapist named Cassidy McCabe, who wants her live-in boyfriend, reporter Zach Moran, to accompany her to a family function. “It’s not like I’m asking you to marry me or anything,” she snaps.

What causes McCabe’s irritation, says Matthews, is a “fear of abandonment.” Like her protagonist, Matthews runs a psychotherapy practice out of her Oak Park home, and many of McCabe’s neuroses have been culled from Matthews’s clients.

“Women that age tend to have more problems developing relationships and more blocks to intimacy than women did in the past,” explains Matthews. “There’s more of a sense that they have to do it on their own, that finding someone who can take care of you is not an option.”

But, of course, McCabe needs Moran’s help. She’s trying to track down a man who has been injecting women with the AIDS virus and then referring them to her for counseling. Matthews’s research on sexual sadism provided her with the character of Cliff Connors, whose anger stems from that old chestnut, romantic rejection.

“I’ve discovered that people have often got dis-torted motivations that lead them to do unbelievable things,” Matthews says. “They’re able to rationalize and come up with these really bizarre reasons why they should do what they’re doing. But the reason that people try to harm others is always anger.”

Vendetta’s Victim is the third book in a series about McCabe, who Matthews promises will eventually iron out her problems with Moran–up to a point.

“I want to take these characters and have them reach a point where they have a really solid relationship and move them on to other issues they have to work through.” Spoken like a true therapist.

On Sunday Matthews will sign copies of Vendetta’s Victim and lead a free workshop called “Buttons That Get Pushed,” which will use examples from the book to examine why some situations cause people to overreact. It’s at 2 at Borders Books & Music, 2817 N. Clark. Call 773-935-3909. –Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Alex Matthews photo by Nathan Mandell.