Review

The Genius

by Jesse Kellerman

Jesse Kellerman’s bibliography does not run long --- THE
GENIUS is his third novel --- but his talent runs deep. There were
hints of it in SUNSTROKE and fulfillment of the promise in TROUBLE.
But THE GENIUS takes you places you haven’t been before, at
least not often. The book has elements of genre fiction --- be it
mystery, thriller and suspense --- but, as narrator Ethan Muller
hastens to tell us at the beginning of this astounding work, it
might be a detective story, though he is no detective. He is
dogged, however, and sometimes --- as in THE GENIUS --- that is
enough.

Muller is hardly born to the role of gumshoe, amateur or otherwise.
The estranged son of a third-generation industrialist, Muller is a
flavor of the month dealer in contemporary art who literally
stumbles into a treasure trove of which most of his peers only
dream. A reclusive, secretive slum dweller named Victor Cracke has
disappeared from his tenement apartment, leaving behind an
incredible and breathtaking cache of his artwork. Cracke’s
work --- a series of interconnecting drawings that seem to document
a world more real than our own --- is brilliant, and Muller
recognizes it as same. He tries, halfheartedly at best, to locate
Cracke, but the man seems to have vanished into thin air. Muller
nonetheless has a showing of Cracke’s work, and both of their
names are on everyone’s lips, with Muller’s reputation,
at least for the moment, assured.

Things take an interesting turn, however, when a newspaper article
concerning Muller’s gallery, with a reproduction of
Cracke’s work, attracts the attention of Lee McGrath, a
retired and terminally ill homicide cop. One of Cracke’s
illustrations demonstrates a familiarity with the victim of one of
McGrath’s unsolved cases. McGrath contacts Muller, who
develops a slow but strong attraction toward McGrath’s
daughter Samantha, a quietly complex woman with the New York
District Attorney’s office. Muller, somewhat self-absorbed at
the beginning of THE GENIUS, becomes obsessed with finding Cracke,
and perhaps obtaining not only some long-overdue justice for a
murder victim, but also some closure for McGrath.

Yes, this sounds like a mystery novel. But THE GENIUS only begins
here. Its true story, like the best of any genre fiction, is about
the people involved, with the ultimate barometer being the degree
to which the reader cares about them. And you will care plenty. You
will want --- ache for --- Muller and Samantha to, however
improbably, get together; for McGrath to solve his last case; for
the true story of Cracke to be revealed, whether for good or for
ill. You’ll get some of those things, and maybe all of them,
to varying degrees, as well as an ending that will bring tears to
your eyes. But what ultimately makes it a fabulous work is the
backstory that Kellerman parcels out in time-release sections, so
that even if you think you have it all figured out, you won’t
know it all. Not until the very end, in any event.

With THE GENIUS, Kellerman attains --- however prematurely ---
master status in his chosen craft. The frightening thing is, as
wonderful as the novel is, I have a feeling that we have yet to see
this man’s best work.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

The Genius
by Jesse Kellerman

  • Publication Date: April 10, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399154590
  • ISBN-13: 9780399154591