Within a short time, Jesse Kellerman --- the son of bestselling authors Jonathan and Faye Kellerman --- has established a solid reputation for quality and unpredictability. His debut novel, SUNSTROKE, was an enigmatic tale played out mostly in rural Mexico. TROUBLE, his sophomore effort, is even more disturbing than its predecessor, an accessible work that treads uneasily across dangerous if familiar ground.
The book takes place primarily in New York City, though the locus of the events that propel it could occur in any large or medium-sized city. Jonah Stem is a medical student who has just begun a surgical rotation; he is so exhausted that he barely can keep one foot moving in front of the other. He's in the middle of a late-night errand when he encounters a woman being attacked on the street; his intervention is impulsive, reactive and successful. The victim is saved, and the attacker somehow winds up dead. Stem gets his 15 minutes of fame, and life goes on --- but suddenly it becomes very different for him.
Eve Gones, the young lady Stem rescues, shows up to thank him. Her gratitude takes on a more intimate form, and there are layers to her that Stem cannot imagine. As she begins to reveal herself, he decides that he wants no part of her. Unfortunately for Stem, Gones will not go away so easily. She begins insinuating herself deeper and deeper into his life, and the more Stem finds out about her, the more he realizes that he's in a situation that can only end badly. The family of Gones's attacker wants their pound of flesh as well, and when Stem discovers the terrible truth about everything that's happening, he is convinced that his future --- if indeed he has one --- is in jeopardy.
Kellerman's narrative is unnerving and haunting. While his pacing falters just a bit in spots, the quiet, disturbing unreeling of Stem's life leaves the reader unsettled from practically the first page to the last. And, as bad as Gones is, Stem isn't wound too tight either. Soon enough we learn that there is something about him that isn't quite right --- something in his personality makeup that draws disturbed women to him like a moth to a flame.
The trappings that Kellerman provides Stem with --- the loving but quiet father, the somewhat overbearing mother, the trustafarian roommate --- make him all the more realistic and the horrors he encounters all too possible. The result is a novel that is nothing short of mesmerizing. Recommended with caution, due to graphic descriptions of violence and sexual situations.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011