Monday, July 20, 2020


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

In the ritzy Los Angeles neighborhood of Borodi Lane, a part-time security guard is tasked with guarding a half-completed monument to an Asian prince's vanity – a tacky mansion with a third-story turret – as it slowly decays, its wooden frame exposed to the weather. Then one day, the guard finds the bodies of a murdered couple in the turret, and a few days later, the place burns down and a third victim is found inside. Not much of a guarding job, eh? But it's definitely a job for LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and consulting psychologist, Dr. Alex Delaware.

As Milo and Alex dig into the background of the victims – the male, identified quickly as a junior partner of a "green" architecture firm that just went under; the female, a little more resistant to identification, eventually revealed to have been a girl he knew in high school, all the way back in Seattle – motives for the crime seem somehow connected to a missing bag of cash, and again perhaps to an ecoterrorism movement that was involved in a teen's death back in the young couple's salad days. Or perhaps it's connected with a ritual revenge plot against a money-guzzling prince who made a Swiss banker's beautiful daughter disappear two years ago. The suspects are an eccentric bunch – a shaven-headed female engineer whose partners think she cheated them; a bunch of female co-workers who all slept with the male victim; the wheelchair bound husband of one of them; or maybe the mysterious figure, photographed outside the Seattle storage unit where the loot disappeared. There's also something subtly off about the evidence from the original crime scene ... but if I say more than that, I'll spoil the mystery for you.

It's a devious plot. It's a sexy mystery that provides a goodly assortment of red herrings, a satisfying solution and, at the same time, just enough lack of resolution to give you that unforgettable sting of "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" – as close as a mass-market thriller gets to hard-boiled these days. I'm not exactly sure why a child therapist, specializing in abnormal psychology, was particularly needed on this case. It isn't one of the installments in this series where there's an obvious application for his specialty. But as one half of a successful crime-solving team, his persistence, his insight into the way people think and, perhaps especially, his subtle gift for deception and manipulation make Alex an essential part of Milo's mystery machine.

This 2009 book is the 24th of the Alex Delaware mysteries, a series that started in 1985 with When the Bough Breaks (a.k.a. Shrunken Heads) and due to continue with a 36th book, Serpentine, in February 2021. Next in order after this book is Deception.

No comments: