Killer: An Alex Delaware Novel
Jonathan Kellerman introduced psychologist Alex Delaware almost three decades ago. The newly published KILLER marks Delaware’s 29th series appearance, and I continue to enjoy each new entry just a bit more than the last. Longtime and recently acquainted readers know that there are a number of familiar elements that bond the books in the series together. You can pick your favorite ongoing element; mine is the more than nodding acquaintance that LAPD detective Milo Sturgis has with the Delaware household refrigerator and the concoctions he fashions from found leftovers (Have I tried any of them? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”).
"KILLER is well plotted and paced. Kellerman tosses a surprise or two into the mix at irregular intervals yet saves the best for the end. The best element, however, is the writing. The book is beautifully written with prose that is straightforward and introspective, and tugs the reader right along from first paragraph to last."
Still, Kellerman is not writing the same book repeatedly; each has some different hook upon which he hangs his hat, an edge that always includes some of his best writing to that point.In KILLER, the hook, if you will, is Delaware’s decision to become a consulting expert in family law court matters concerning the contested custody of minor children. Delaware is at first extremely reluctant to be involved in such matters, which for him include interviewing both parents, observing the children, writing a report with a recommendation, and occasionally testifying at hearings. He soon begins to actually enjoy the give-and-take of the proceedings, primarily because he finds that he is doing some good at least some of the time.
Things take a different turn, however, when he is tapped to consult in the matter of Sykes v. Sykes. The case does not pit spouse against spouse, but rather sister against sister. Dr. Constance Sykes, a physician who runs a successful testing laboratory, has brought an action against her younger sister, Cherie, for guardianship of Cherie’s 16-month-old daughter, Rambla. The decision on paper would seem like a slam dunk in Dr. Sykes’s favor, given Cherie’s rather checkered background and income status. Delaware quickly sees that for whatever mistakes Cherie has made in the past, she is a good and loving mother who provides emotionally, if not entirely materially, for her daughter. Dr. Sykes is wealthy but emotionally cold and somewhat off-putting. By the time Delaware puts words to paper, his decision is a slam dunk --- for Cherie, not her sister.
Delaware puts the case behind him until Dr. Sykes makes an unscheduled and bizarre visit to his office and leaves a veiled threat in the air behind her. Worse, Sturgis learns through his informational grapevine that Dr. Sykes has actually gone so far as to put a hit out on Delaware. Before she can be arrested, Sturgis discovers that she herself has been murdered. Incredibly, the finger of suspicion points to Cherie, who with Rambla disappears simultaneously with the discovery of her sister’s body. Sturgis is also all but certain that Cherie murdered Dr. Sykes to avoid the prospect of an appeal of the judge’s custody decision, a conclusion with which Delaware reluctantly comes to agree.
Delaware can’t help wondering how he could have been so wrong about Cherie, who to him seemed incapable of murdering or even harming anyone. He and Sturgis working together and separately begin delving into the quagmire of Cherie’s past life, her friends and acquaintances, trying to find her and Rambla, all the while unaware that the answer to their queries is much closer than either of them could reasonably imagine.
KILLER is well plotted and paced. Kellerman tosses a surprise or two into the mix at irregular intervals yet saves the best for the end. The best element, however, is the writing. The book is beautifully written with prose that is straightforward and introspective, and tugs the reader right along from first paragraph to last. It is never an effort to begin a Kellerman novel, nor is it ever a chore to finish one; this holds doubly true of KILLER, one of his best to date.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 14, 2014