Monday, September 17, 2018

Crime Scene

Crime Scene
by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

This first book in the Clay Edison series focuses on a heretofore untapped area of mystery novel sleuthery: coroners' deputies. In the Bay Area county depicted in this novel, that means a group of sworn sheriff's deputies who specialize in photographing the scene of a suspicious death, collecting the body to take back to the morgue, and (after the pathologist submits an autopsy report) deciding whether the corpse's manner of death was natural, accidental, suicide, homicide or undetermined. The Clay Edison of whom I have made mention is one of these guys. It might sound fishy to viewers of TV mystery shows, but I recently wrote a newspaper story about a woman who retired from a similar position with the Minnesota BCA, and around this time last year (when I was still living in Missouri) I read about the BCA in a crime novel and thought it was a fictional agency. So, don't write it off as far-fetched. Somewhere between the cops who interview witnesses and suspects and the scientists who analyze crime-scene evidence, there are, in some jurisdictions, cops with guns who serve on the crime scene detail but who aren't tasked with solving the crime. So, if he's that type of cop, how does Clay Edison manage to solve the crime in this novel? Well, that would be telling. But I'll give you a couple hints: (1) he does it mostly on his days off, and (2) he gets in trouble for it.

So, there you go. Clay Edison is a former college basketball star and with an "all but dissertation" doctorate in psychology, the younger of two sons who when asked whether he has any siblings says "none to speak of," and a cop who sees dead people everywhere, but mostly because he remembers securing the scene where they died. His job isn't to close cases; it's just to "manner" people's deaths and help their loved ones find closure. Nevertheless, once he gets his teeth into the death of a disgraced psychology professor whose daughter is convinced it was murder, he just can't let go. Even with all the evidence indicating that the man died of a heart attack, something about the the psychologist's past niggles at Clay. The latest death may be natural, but the prof's former research assistant came to a similar end several years earlier, and that death seems somehow related to the brutal slaying of another member of the research team years before that, and the disturbed young man who went to prison for her murder was not only out of jail in plenty of time to kill both men, but he's also missing. And Clay thinks he saw the guy at the scene of the prof's death. And Clay is increasingly drawn to the professor's daughter. And so on.

You know how it goes. Law enforcement officer begins to cross a professional line with one of the witnesses, and there's a psycho out there, and so of course, they're both in danger... Except, none of that happens in this book. In fact, it goes in a surprisingly different direction, though one that is richly stocked with spookiness, regret, intrigue, and other emotional revelations. The story is tightly plotted, yet at the same time it increasingly invites the reader to invest emotionally in Clay as a character. Also, it is rife with hardboiled-style zingers such as the following description of a witness:
He wore a broadcloth button-down shirt tucked into Levi's. Both belt and suspenders had been enlisted in the battle between pants and gut. I liked the gut's chances. It had gravity on its side.
Among other bits that I liked so much that I promised myself at the time that I would quote them here are the statement, "I make it my business not to make other people's business my business," and the observation, "(She) crossed her legs, a maneuver that took a long time and ought to have involved the FAA." There are lots of examples like this in Clay's narrative of smart remarks that reminded me fondly of Philip Marlowe and his ilk.

Believe it or not, I have never read anything by Jonathan Kellerman before. He is the author of approximately 34 crime thrillers featuring a child psychologist named Alex Delaware, who makes a cameo appearance in this book, as well as a couple "Petra Connor" novels (Billy Straight and Twisted), several other novels, short story collections, non-fiction (mostly about abnormal child psychology, but also a book about guitars), and a couple of books for children. With his wife Faye Kellerman, he wrote Double Homicide and Capital Crimes. With his son Jesse, he has also written two "Jacob Lev" novels (The Golem of Hollywood and The Golem of Paris) and a sequel to this book, A Measure of Darkness. On his own, Jesse Kellerman has published the novels Sunstroke, Trouble, The Genius, The Executor and Potboiler, and the play Things Beyond Our Control.

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