One of the most intriguing and attractive elements of Jonathan Kellerman's novels concerning psychologist Alex Delaware is Kellerman's willingness to change --- dramatically --- the elements of his characters' lives. While Kellerman's latest novel, A COLD HEART, begins somewhat violently, the mystery behind a series of murders occurring apparently at random is balanced nicely by the interplay between Delaware, his gradually burgeoning relationship with Allison Gwynn and his resolution of his feelings toward Robin Castagna, his ex-lover. It's hard to overemphasize how important this is, or how masterfully Kellerman accomplishes it. Leave out the potentially explosive chemistry of the relationships and what would be left is an unrelentingly grim novel about a mysterious serial killer; focus too much on the relationships and one risks wandering involuntarily into ripped bodice territory. Kellerman makes the story of one as interesting as the other and very neatly brings them together at the denouement.
A COLD HEART begins with the murder of Baby Boy Lee, a legendary blues guitarist with a cult following who is attempting to make a final grab at larger fame and fortune, when he is mysteriously murdered during a cigarette break while playing a gig. When an up-and-coming painter and a promising concert pianist are also murdered shortly thereafter, it appears as if someone is marking performance artists for death. The victims however appear to otherwise be unrelated and, when the unsolved prior murders of a punk rock singer and a ballet dancer also seem to be related, the motive and the individual behind the murders become even more mysterious. Delaware, along with police detective Milo Sturgis and Sturgis's colleague Petra Connor, approach the investigation from different angles, all working gradually toward the same goal, with Delaware and Connor working through their own personal problems as well. No one is more surprised than Delaware, however, when he discovers that the solution to the investigation lies with him, personally. The result is a chase that ends, if not at Delaware's front door, somewhere close to it.
Yet, A COLD HEART is ultimately hijacked by the introduction of a new character. Petra Connor is assigned a new partner, an enigmatic question mark named Eric Stahl. Stahl appears to be lacking emotion, warmth and personality, but as the reader begins to learn through bits and pieces sparingly fed by Kellerman, there is far, far more to Stahl than would otherwise be indicated. The truth is far more interesting --- and tragic --- than one would suspect. Stahl plays an important part in the ultimate resolution of A COLD HEART and it would not be surprising at all if he should someday be the leading protagonist in another of Kellerman's volumes. He is too strong and too interesting a character to continue to play a secondary role.
Kellerman demonstrates in A COLD HEART that he is unafraid to bring changes and growth to his characters and in fact seems to relish the challenges that such changes bring to his work. In A COLD HEART he has wisely made Delaware more involved in the action and less of a mere observer. This is a pattern that hopefully will continue in future Delaware novels, even as the characters continue to change and grow.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 30, 2003