Jonathan Kellerman

A few short reviews

I’m not quite sure how it has happened that I’ve not posted on my blog for so long. You’d think that the months of lockdown restrictions would have given me more time not less! In a way to catch up on some of my outstanding reviews I thought I’d try and cram a few into the same post.

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First up – one of the few books that I’ve been sent by a publisher this year.

Title – Lost Souls

Author – Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman

Published – 2021

Genre – Crime fiction

While I’m a big fan of Jonathan Kellerman, I don’t feel quite the same about his son Jesse, so if I’d been offered a review copy of this book I may well have turned it down. As it happens this just arrived in the post – and I’m very pleased it did.

This is the third in the ‘Clay Edison’ series but it wasn’t spoiled by not having read the preceding books. 

Clay Edison is the Deputy Coroner working the graveyard shift in a Californian suburb when he’s called out to the discovery of a dead infant uncovered by developers working in a local park. It will be Edison’s job to find the cause of death and determine the child’s identity. This is a particularly poignant case as Edison and his wife are just coming to terms with the arrival of their own small daughter. 

Prompted by news of the discovery Edison is approached by a man who is trying discover what happened to his sister who went missing as a small child some fifty years previously. Touched by the man’s situation Edison embarks on a private investigation.

Despite the similarities of the stories the investigations complement each other and I found this a quick and enjoyable read. I do wish, however, that I’d had a better idea of what a coroner’s role was in the US. 

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Next – a book that’s been on my shelves for a while. 

Title – The Stars are Fire

Author – Anita Shreve

Published – 2017

Genre – Fiction

This was the last of Anita Shreve’s books to be published before she died in 2018 and I’ve been saving it for a while.

Set in 1947 on the Maine coast, Grace and her husband a struggling in an unhappy marriage with their two young children. When Grace is pregnant with their third child fires sweep along the coast and Gene volunteers to help in a neighbouring town, leaving Grace to look after their home and their children. Gene hasn’t returned when the fire reaches their own home and Grace must draw on a strength and practicality she didn’t know she had to make sure that she and her children survive. 

In the aftermath of the fire and the decimation of their town she has to find a way to manage when Gene still doesn’t return to them. Grace turns out to be resourceful and is supported by a small cast of people who do their best to help her but ultimately her future will be determined by the fate of her husband. 

An atmospheric book with a period setting and an insight into the everyday lives of women and the hardship they faced, especially how difficult it could be to be single. 

Not my favourite of Shreve’s books but a story with a memorable main character. It also makes a change to read a book that’s told in an uncomplicated way with a single point of view and a chronological timeline. 

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Third – a sort of memoir. 

Title – Hemingway in Love

Author – A E Hotchner

Published – 2015

Genre – Memoir

I chose this book as I’ve developed a bit of an interest in Hemingway after reading Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel in 2014. 

Hotchner first met Hemingway when he was sent to commission him in Havana in 1948 for Cosmopolitan. They struck up a friendship and frequently travelled together until Hemingway’s death in 1961, in 1966 he published ‘Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir’. 

This is a slim book that provides an insight into Hemingway’s own thoughts on the affair that destroyed his first marriage (and led to his second). The dilemma he faced as he was ‘torn between two women’ and how he let Pauline Pfeiffer gain the upper hand. 

This gave an interesting perspective but like many books on this subject it remains difficult to see what is the truth of the relationships versus what people want you to think. Although it does provide a nice, potted, biography of the big man. 

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Finally –  review of a book that’s been sitting on my TBR shelf for 6 years!

Title – The Widow’s Confession 

Author – Sophia Tobin

Published – 2015

Genre – Historical fiction

This is the second book by Sophia Tobin (her debut was The Silversmith’s Wife) and is an atmospheric drama set in 1851. Broadstairs in Kent is the summer destination for people wanting to take the air or keep a low profile; a number of chance encounters amongst these visitors creates a small group of acquaintances who enjoy a few excursions together around the town. An eclectic group where a widow, a priest, and a painter can all find themselves having a picnic and shell collecting together. 

The necessities of Victorian life mean that there are conventions to be followed and woe betide those who don’t toe the line. In this upright and uptight atmosphere it’s easy to keep secrets buried but there is a price to pay when they are uncovered. There is also an ‘outsider’ element to the story – with a division between the ‘locals’ and the ‘visitors’.  

There is a mystery, a number of young women who are found dead on the shore, but that’s more of an aside to the way the relationships develop between the disparate group, it’s the feelings that the deaths bring to the surface within the group that are more prominent than the search for the person responsible.  

I enjoyed this with its historical details, atmospheric setting and well-drawn characters and I was particularly a fan of Delphine Beck. 

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The Museum of Desire – Jonathan Kellerman


Title
– The Museum of Desire

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – 2020

Genre – Crime fiction

I think the last book in the Alex Delaware series that I reviewed was Breakdown (#31). During the first lockdown (as the early part of 2020 is now known) I treated myself to The Wedding Guest (#34) but I must have shelved it without writing a review. I’m still figuring out the gap in the middle…

So here we are at #35 in the series – ‘The Museum of Desire’. The book opens with the discovery of a bizarre display of murder victims in the aftermath of a Beverly Hills party. So it’s no stretch to think that Milo Sturgis is going to ask for the help of Alex Delaware.  And then we’re off!

The investigation moves quite slowly as the pair have very little in the way of clues, no obvious connection between the murder victims and a variety of murder weapons. Despite what felt like slow progress I was still engrossed and cracked through the book. There are a few red herrings thrown in along the way but these felt like less of a distraction than in some earlier titles.

One of the things I always enjoy is the LA setting and one day I will get a map out to trace their movements as they drive backwards and forwards. There was a bit less eating out than there’s perhaps been in other books – always a bit of an insight into the LA life.

A while back I felt disappointed that Delaware had moved from being directly involved in cases through the child psychology angle but as the years have passed it feels more credible that he would perhaps spend less time on those cases and have more ‘free’ time to help Milo. And while he’s called on ostensibly for his psychological expertise I think Milo actually involves him for his abilities with a search engine and his tendency to ‘just drive past’ a location critical to the case – often at just the right moment!

The set up of the murders, although grotesque, also holds the key to their solution and while the usual team is involved in the investigation it’s actually Delaware’s partner, Robin, who finds the essential piece of information. I was surprised by the direction the plot took towards the end and the climax was intense!

I think (after reading 30+ books in the series) that Kellerman has a very individual writing style, something that feels familiar and comforting to me and I still look forward to a new Kellerman more than any other author’s books.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Breakdown – Jonathan Kellerman

Title – Breakdown

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

In the past I used to receive some specific hardback books at Christmas which I would then devour over the next few days. Initially this was a Dick Francis and then it became a Jonathan Kellerman; habits change, as do publishing dates, so over the last few years this hasn’t happened. It also doesn’t seem as if I have the chance to read much during the day at Christmas any longer, but a spare pair of hands with puppy-sitting and a long-neglected Kellerman on my TBR and I seized the opportunity!

This is number 31 in the Alex Delaware series, a series that’s had its ups and downs, and I’d say that this was a ‘middling’ book. The main thread of the story is that five years previously consulting psychologist Alex Delaware evaluated the young son of a disturbed actress, Zelda Chase, as a favour for a colleague. The colleague has since died and when the actress is sectioned after some bizarre behaviour Delaware is called in because of his tenuous connection. He tries to help the young woman but Delaware is unable to find out from the woman, who has been living on the streets, what has happened to her son. This leads to a bit of an obsession as he tries to find the boy and even enlists Milo’s (LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis) help in trying to track him down.

The woman is released and Delaware and Sturgis sort out some accommodation for her but she still doesn’t offer any insight into what happened to her son. Then her body is discovered in the grounds of a grand estate in a prestigious area of LA. It  takes a while but eventually they have to give credence to Zelda’s belief in a dreadful event in her past.

The scene-setting at the beginning with the events when Delaware first encounters Zelda and her son are quite tedious but worth persevering with. After the death of Zelda the book takes on more of an investigatory feel with the focus on Zelda and her story – how she died, how she came to be homeless. Then more women go missing.

Less in the way of red herrings and twists than some books in the series, more Hollywood and acting than some. The relevant information which is important solving the case comes quite indirectly to the pair and that felt a bit frustrating. If the story was about Delaware’s search for Zelda’s son he seemed to forget that was his purpose sometimes and then that thread would get back on track. Oooh – and one inconsistency late on in the book that irritated me.

The pairing of Delaware and Sturgis works well, but then Kellerman has had a lot of time to develop the partnership. In fact thinking back to when the series was first published having a gay cop in Sturgis could well have been cutting edge. The pair bounce ideas off each other and discuss their theories, which helps to take the reader along with their train of thought.

Kellerman’s writing has a very specific feel and it’s like putting on a comfy pair of slippers for me but I know it’s not a style that appeals to everyone it’s an aspect that I really like, and for me it helps to bring the characters and situations to life. This was a book more about investigation that psychology, but no less enjoyable for that.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. Probably a 3.5 star rather than just a 3.

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Motive – Jonathan Kellerman

MotiveTitle – Motive

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – September 2015 (paperback)

Genre – Crime fiction

So this is number 30 in the Alex Delaware series – where did the time go?
It can’t be easy to maintain a series over such a long period (the first ‘Delaware’ title was published in 1985) and having read all the titles in the series I can say that there have been many peaks accompanied by a few ‘troughs’ along the way. But Motive seems like part of his return to form.

The story opens with Milo (LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis) consulting psychologist Alex Delaware when he is frustrated by a seemingly simple murder that he has been unable to solve. Delaware can add nothing and the case remains stalled. Move forward a few weeks and Milo is back in touch – this time he’s looking for Delaware’s psych skills in the murder of a wealthy divorcee who has been shot in the car park of a law firm.

The pairing of Delaware and Sturgis works well, but then Kellerman has had a lot of time to develop the partnership. In fact thinking back to when the series was first published having a gay cop in Sturgis could well have been cutting edge. The pair bounce ideas off each other and discuss their theories, which helps to take the reader along with their train of thought.

There’s not a great deal of the psychological component to the story, especially compared to earlier books in the series, more it’s diligent police work and of course Delaware can’t resist undertaking some of the investigative work himself. These stories don’t rely on large amounts of detailed forensic work but are more about talking to the people involved (witnesses, suspects) and getting others to come back with the results of the more detailed investigative work. There are plenty of red herrings to keep the reader guessing but (fortunately) the plot isn’t as convoluted as some have of the book’s predecessors. I was also pleased that there was less of Delaware’s personal life than there has been in some of the later novels.

Kellerman’s writing has a very specific feel when it comes to descriptions and although I know it’s not a style that appeals to everyone it’s an aspect that I really like, and for me it helps to bring the characters and situations to life.

So there’s a twisty plot, some red herrings, and a spot of sleuthing – both amateur and professional. All in all an enjoyable read. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Mystery – Jonathan Kellerman

51lf8elo6tLTitle – Mystery

Author – Jonathan Kellerman

Published – 2010

Genre – Crime fiction

I started reading Jonathan Kellerman’s books for no better reason than they were quite long , so when I had an hour’s train journey to work each day they actually lasted me for the best part of a week. It was one of my better book choices and Kellerman quickly became one of my favourite, if not my top, authors.

If you’ve never read any of Kellerman’s books (really? – you should do something about that) they mostly feature a partnership between Alex Delaware, a child psychologist, and Milo Sturgis his friend & (gay) LAPD detective (now a lieutenant). In the early books the stories revolved much more around Delaware’s work with children, either through private practice, or as a consultant in custody cases, but Mystery is number 26 in the series so there have obviously had to be a few new variations on the theme. The books are a combination of psychological thriller and criminal detection.

In Mystery, Delaware and his long-term girlfriend visit an old haunt of theirs, a rundown hotel on the verge of closing. They both notice a man behaving oddly outside the hotel, and a young and very attractive woman in the bar who seems to be waiting for someone. The next day Milo pays an early morning visit to Delaware & tells him about a new homicide he’s working on with an unidentified victim. Ta dah! Delaware realises that the victim is the young woman from the previous evening. I might balk at such a coincidence in other books, but as Delaware says – maybe it was due.

Kellerman’s plots tend to be quite complicated, the stories full of restaurant stops – where Milo does his best work, and the scenery is provided by LA. Mystery is no exception, in attempting to track down the identity of the victim the pair become involved in a world of sugar daddies and internet dating, and of families with secrets. There’s also a second thread to the story as Delaware is asked to help an old acquaintance who is looking for some support for her young son. Delaware finds himself doing a bit more of the investigating in this book than he should, but generally he is the calm and thoughtful influence in the books, with Sturgis the more flamboyant but practical policeman.

I think the style of writing is one you either love or hate. Kellerman has a very spare way with words that I like. Lots of short sentences. I think the dialogue is realistic with lots of half-finished sentences and very true to how people really speak.   He also has a knack for describing characters in a brief paragraph, and I do look for the author to paint me a picture of the people & places he’s telling me about.

“The woman who marched through was forty or so with thick, wavy chestnut hair, wide aqua eyes, and a longish face of a porcelain hue and consistency that suggested sun phobia. Full lips, thin beakish nose, a smidge too much chin for ideal beauty.”

I have to confess that I don’t think some of the recent Kellerman books have been quite up to the standards of the earlier ones, but this is one a great return to form. If you haven’t read any of his books before you won’t feel as if you’ve missed out if you start with Mystery, but I suggest going back to the very beginning and trying When the Bough Breaks.

And don’t confuse this Kellerman with his author wife Faye Kellerman, or his author son Jesse Kellerman!

Score – 4/5