Submitted for your consideration: Ardis Peake, resident of the Starkweather Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Term of residency: decades, after the unspeakable annihilation of his mother and a ranching family that had shown him nothing but kindness. Peake spends his days and nights in a solitary, drug-induced stupor which is felt to be better for him, and the world at large, than consciousness.
Outside of Starkweather lie the mean streets of Los Angeles in the closing days of the twentieth century. A waiter-cum-actor is found dead, sawn in half, in a car trunk. Months later, Dr. Claire Argent, a psychologist at Starkweather who had been treating Peake, is found murdered in a similar way. Reports indicate that Peake, whose conversation is normally limited to incoherent mumblings, may have had prescient knowledge of Dr. Argent's murder. How is this possible? This is the mystery that psychologist Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis must solve in MONSTER.
MONSTER is the thirteenth --- and best --- of Jonathan Kellerman's novels featuring Dr. Delaware. Kellerman dedicates MONSTER to the memory of Kenneth Millar. Millar, under the pen name Ross MacDonald, wrote a series of novels featuring detective Lew Archer, which functions as no less than a written documentary of postwar Los Angeles. Kellerman, with MONSTER and most of his previous Delaware novels, continues the tradition, painting a sharp, brilliant picture of Southern California at the end of the millennium.
Kellerman's work, however, is not merely an honorific pastiche of MacDonald's. These novels stand entirely on their own. And while Kellerman brings his extensive background in psychology to bear in MONSTER, he also shows a strong familiarity with police work. It is no less than fascinating to watch Delaware and Sturgis slowly, painstakingly, connect the dots between Peake's incoherent mumblings and a rapidly increasing body count in the outside world. Delaware and Sturgis are drawn into a pattern of manipulation, pathological hatred, and vengeance, demonstrating that some of the worst monsters dwell, none too quietly, among us.
Kellerman's considerable and multifaceted talents are on full display with the publication of MONSTER and, as with his other Delaware novels, he demonstrates that he is perhaps the natural successor to Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald as the chronologer of the quiet underbelly of life in Southern California. While his subject matter is somewhat disquieting, it is ultimately a pleasure to watch a master at work, and Kellerman, in MONSTER, is a master at the top of his game.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 5, 2000