Review

Bones: An Alex Delaware Novel

by Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels are very much
character driven, with the psychologist often playing the slightly
bemused chronologist of rumbled Los Angeles Homicide Detective Milo
Sturgis. The basis for the majority of the books is somewhat
simple: Sturgis draws a twisted murder case and brings Delaware in
as a consultative expert. So too with BONES, as the body of a young
female is discovered in a marshland near Marina del Rey. No attempt
is made to conceal either the corpse or the victim’s
identity.

Selena Bass was an attractive young music teacher tasked with
tutoring a child prodigy on the piano. It is hard to conceive of a
less likely victim. Yet further examination of the marshland
unearths three other women, identities (and connections to Bass, if
there were any) unknown. There is not a lot for Delaware to do, at
least initially, other than to observe and narrate. Sturgis is
assisted in the dogged police work by Moe Reed, a rookie homicide
detective whose desire to do well is exceeded only by
Sturgis’s single-mindedness.

Reed’s background is also interesting. His semi-estranged
half-brother, Aaron Fox, is a former L.A. cop with a possibly
sketchy past and current employment as a private investigator. Fox
intersects with Sturgis and Reed when he is retained by Simone
Vander to investigate Bass’s murder. Bass’s student, as
it turns out, is Vander’s half-brother. The symmetry is
subtle, and Simone’s interest in the case on behalf of her
loved one contrasts nicely with the prickly relationship between
the two half-brothers. A word or two here about that: Fox and Reed
join an increasing burgeoning cast of secondary characters
introduced in the Delaware series who quite easily could function
as principals in their own novels. While it probably will never
happen --- there are a finite number of hours in a day, even for
writing, and commercial considerations that must be not only
observed but also acknowledged --- theoretically it could be
done.

As it happens, there is a suspect. Travis Huck has a record as
both a criminal and a victim dating back to an early age, and his
experience with the juvenile corrections system has left him
scarred visibly and otherwise. Employed as a house manager by the
Vander family, Sturgis’s radar slowly but surely hones in on
Huck, who had opportunity and a possible twisted motive.
Huck’s sudden disappearance does not help matters either.
When a radical environmentalist who was the self-appointed guardian
of the marsh is murdered as well, it seems as if the wetland is the
focal point of the carnage. Matters, however, go much deeper than
that, and, in the final third of BONES, Delaware’s
involvement moves to the forefront as he is able not only to bring
some semblance of peace to a tortured soul but also to save an
innocent one from a deadly and greedy scheme.

While the focus of a great deal of BONES is off of Delaware, one
constant that it has with the rest of the series is the quiet
manifestation of Kellerman’s penchant for using his work as
an ongoing triptych through the constantly evolving world of Los
Angeles. This series is worth reading, from beginning to end, for
that reason alone. One example: near the end of the book we
encounter a middle-aged woman, a hanger-on, who typifies a great
deal of a certain strata of the southern California lifestyle.
Nonie is only present for a page or two, but Kellerman sums her up
so perfectly that we don’t need any more than what we are
given. The presentation is arguably worth the price of admission
all by itself, even if you ordinarily avoid genre fiction. It is
touches like these that have kept me coming back for almost the
past quarter-century --- and will keep me coming back for
(hopefully) the next.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

Bones: An Alex Delaware Novel
by Jonathan Kellerman

  • Publication Date: October 21, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345495136
  • ISBN-13: 9780345495136