Monday, December 30, 2019

The Wedding Guest

The Wedding Guest
by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Child psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware hasn't heard much lately from his best friend, LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis. Then he gets called in to look at a pretty weird murder scene – a beautiful young woman, dressed to kill, found strangled in the ladies' room at a wedding reception. Nobody on either the bride's side or the groom's admits to knowing her. But clearly, something twisted is up, and members of the wedding party are hiding something.

For one thing, the specific method of killing the young woman resembles a series of crimes that happened several years ago in Poland – and at the mention of Poland, the groom and other members of his family clam right up. For another thing, a drug used to subdue the dead girl is used in the father-of-the-groom's veterinary practice. Also, the sister-of-the-groom lives in the same college student apartment complex as at least one other girl who died under similar circumstances, and where a caretaker died a drug-related death within hours of this latest murder. Finally, there's the victim herself, whose real identity remains elusive more than a week after her death; all Milo and Alex know about her is that she dances (poorly) for a living, gives everybody she meets a slightly different name and used to date another caretaker at the same building, whose overdose death no longer seems like an accident.

Who all these clues point toward doesn't become clear until quite late in the book, when a young woman's life depends on catching the bad guy in the act with not a moment to spare. That much you could guess from the shelf where you'll find this book, and what experience tells you about the kind of book that lives there. There's always a last-minute race to confront evil, face to face, with someone's (or more than one's) life on the line – and the danger will be real for the investigators, too. Heigh-ho, ho-hum, yawn. What gets you in this mystery is the elusiveness of the identity of both the victim and the dark figure behind her death. Also, as murderers go, he has an unusual specialty – talking pretty, promising young women into killing themselves, or letting him kill them – that adds its own macabre dimension to the thriller.

As always, Milo and Alex make a fun crime-solving duo. Their patter is comfortable, experienced, and witty. Their familiar roles as partners in investigation continue to show room to stretch. Their relationships with the recurring characters around them – from Milo's homicide squad to Alex's longtime girlfriend Robin – establish a baseline against which their forays into danger and the unknown show up in all the sharper relief. Recent developments in the politics and science of crime detection keep that background up to date. And cameo appearances (at secondhand) by Robin's real-life clients in the music world, such as guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin, help keep the whodunit grounded in the known. Clearly, author Kellerman knows something about the psyche of his readers, and he plays that (along with the psychological aspects of the crimes we're reading about) with a bravura touch.

This is the 34th of soon-to-be 35 Alex Delaware mysteries. The next installment, The Museum of Desire, is due to be released Feb. 4, 2020.

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