Please permit me to direct your attention to VICTIMS, the latest in Jonathan Kellerman’s classic Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis series. Kellerman is incapable of writing badly --- if he has written a clunker, I have yet to read it --- but with his latest, he not only brings his “A” game but also ratchets it up a notch or three. That chill you feel from the opening pages right through to the last paragraph is not due to faulty weather stripping in whatever room you happen to be in, but rather is caused by Kellerman’s dark revelations of the shadows of the human soul.
"VICTIMS is far more than an entertainment designed to fill several hours; it is one of those books that keeps the reader brooding and thinking for a good long while."
VICTIMS opens with Sturgis, a weather-beaten but still-driven L.A. homicide detective, calling in psychologist Delaware as a consultant to a gruesome crime scene. Kellerman has used this scenario before, to great effect, but never quite so well as here, where the victim is laid out in a grisly yet chillingly orderly tableau. Her name is Vita Berlin, who, as it develops, was a startlingly unpleasant individual of such degree that the list of potential suspects might well include literally anyone who crossed her path. Clues at the scene of the crime are frustratingly absent, other than a pizza box that contains a cryptic yet unfathomable message. Sturgis is initially convinced that the perpetrator is someone with a grudge against Ms. Berlin, but there is something about the scene that leads Delaware to conclude otherwise.
Delaware’s insight is borne out when a second person is found, murdered by a similar method and accompanied by a similar message. This victim is almost the polar opposite of the first: married, male, pleasant, kind and non-confrontational. Further, there appears to be no connection whatsoever between the two. Sturgis and Delaware slowly begin to reach the frightening conclusion that the killer simply picks victims at random, motivated more by opportunity than by any other particular factor. Sturgis comes under increasing pressure to close the case as the dead bodies begin to pile up. Delaware picks up what appears to be a minor evidentiary thread and follows it into a past that, in turn, takes him back to a chapter of his own history.
The unlikely partners gradually close in on the killer, making a series of chilling and unsettling discoveries that have lain buried for too long. By the end of the book, a line has been crossed for both men, one that may well have repercussions in future novels for one or both of them.
VICTIMS is far more than an entertainment designed to fill several hours; it is one of those books that keeps the reader brooding and thinking for a good long while. The situations and characters, both good and bad, will stay with you, as will the underlying theme of the book concerning the effect that actions have upon the world long after they have been committed. Whether indifferently callous and cruel, or randomly and offhandedly kind, actions have consequences, both for those who commit them and for those who are the recipients. And then there are the actions that seemingly have no cause at all. VICTIMS will keep you up at night, wondering and thinking.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 2, 2012