Monday, May 20, 2019

Night Moves

Night Moves
by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis are an unusual crime-solving team. Delaware is a child psychologist who doesn't really have to work, if he doesn't want to, and at best an unpaid consultant with the Los Angeles Police Department. Sturgis is a full lieutenant who, partly due to homophobia and partly due to getting crosswise with LAPD politics, has his own airless closet of an office and the freedom from administrative responsibilities to actually work homicide cases. Anyway, the odd arrangement works; together, they have an awesome record of closing cases. And it's weird how often their specialties intersect. In this case, for instance, a dysfunctional family in an affluent neighborhood comes home from dining out to find a strange man dead in their den. As a family, and as individuals, they're a psychological case study. As witnesses, and potentially victims, they may have a connection to the killer – something to explain what brought the dead guy to their neighborhood and why the killer chose to leave him where he did.

While Alex tries to get the family at the crime scene to open up to him, Milo's gaze lingers on the creepy dude next door – an independently wealthy recluse with a history of creating disturbing comics, and who seems to have some kind of hold over a mentally challenged girl. A two-timing husband, a missing wife, a mysterious teenager, an altruistic risk-taker, and multiple people living multiple lives become pieces of a puzzle splashed, by the end, with the blood of multiple victims. And the key will turn out to have been right in front of Milo and Alex from the start. Funny how that happens, eh?

For the warm climate it's set in, this psychological murder mystery has some chilling moments. It showcases some solid police work, but even more interesting, it conjures believable characters whose personalities come so vividly to life that their faces and voices register in the reader's mind. For example, the retired musician who keeps making passes at Alex's instrument-maker wife Robin, right in front of him and while helping with his case, is an entertaining presence that lingers throughout the book in spite of the brevity of his part in it. Whatever else he was when he started out, Kellerman has become a novelist of character, who can make an entire street become a real place and the people in it our neighbors. This makes the monster altogether more threatening, and the work of people like Sturgis and Delaware that much more urgent. It's a class act.

This is the 33rd Alex Delaware novel out of, as of this writing, 34 and another on its way. It also happens to be the first book that I have read in this series of psychological thrillers. It's usually unlike me to start toward the end of a long series and work my way back, but sometimes needs must, etc. The series starts with When the Bough Breaks, a.k.a. Shrunken Heads (which I just put on request at the library), and includes such provocative titles as Devil's Waltz, Doctor Death and The Murder Book. Kellerman is also the author of the Petra Connor novels, one of which I have read, and the co-author with his son Jesse Kellerman of the Clay Edison novels, two of which ditto. I'm now planning to work my way through the lot of them.

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