Sunday, December 31, 2017


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 15+

Petra Connor is a female homicide detective in the male-dominated Hollywood Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Her captain has it in for her, but he just hates women. The precinct's receptionist is a passive-aggressive word-that-my-mother-taught-me-never-to-say. Her only other female colleague has been gone for some time, killed in a skiing accident. Even though Petra closes more of her cases than the average detective on her squad, she seldom gets credit for her role in catching the bad guy, partly because she tends to run her plays along the outside edge of the boundary line of correct police procedure.

She'll talk directly with the press, instead of going through all the torturous departmental bureaucracy, when she thinks the publicity will help her find an elusive witness or person of interest. She'll take down a suspect on her own, or at most with her off-duty ex-partner Eric as backup, when she sees an opportunity but can't reach anyone on the task force. And she'll run an off-the-books investigation of six cold cases, based on a tip from a bright young intern who thinks he has spotted a pattern connecting them, even while she's on suspension and could get in serious trouble for impersonating an on-duty police officer. Don't get me wrong; in general, good cops play it by the book. But when it's the only way to stop a killer who has, so far, gotten away with multiple crimes because of a systemic breakdown of by-the-book detection, being ready to go off the playbook is what makes Petra a great cop.

Petra has two cases in this book. The one her woman-hating captain knows about involves a drive-by shooting that kills four teenagers outside a club, which leads in turn to a search for a crime family with a theatrical flair. The other case, brought to Petra's attention by a 22-year-old doctoral candidate and second-generation Salvadoran-American named Isaac Gomez, involves a pattern nobody else noticed. Every year, going back at least six years, someone in L.A. has had his or her brains bashed in with a blunt object, precisely on June 28. That's all they've got to start with, and except for vague suspicions, it's all they've got until almost the end. Petra, sometimes aided by Eric, and Isaac, sometimes aided by a randy librarian old enough to be his mother, follow separate lines of investigation much of the time. This ensures that the closer they get to the killer, the more certain it becomes their hunt will end in an out-of-control, blood-spattered mess. The build-up to that foreseeably thrilling climax is a precisely controlled crescendo of tension and chills.

This 2004 book is the second of two "Petra Connor" mystery thrillers, following 1998's Billy Straight. The series itself is a spinoff from the "Alex Delaware" novels, featuring a child psychologist who helps the police solve crimes; the franchise will reach Book 33 as of Feb. 13, 2018, with the release of Night Moves. Besides a handful of collaborations with his wife Faye Kellerman, also a prolific mystery author, and with their son Jesse Kellerman, an up-and-coming novelist and playwright, Jonathan K.'s titles also include the award-winning Delaware installments When the Bough Breaks (original title, Shrunken Heads) and Monster, standalone novels The Butcher's Theater, The Conspiracy Club, and The Murderer's Daughter, and several non-fiction books about child psychology. Taking this family's output altogether, I seem to have stumbled on another huge pile of books that I'm going to have to read before I die. At the rate I'm going, I'd better live forever!

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