Thursday, August 20, 2020


by Jonathan Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

Child psychologist Alex Delaware and his lover are mostly disappointed by the last night of one of their favorite, classy bars before the hotel it's in gets torn down. The bartender and waiter are temps, not the seasoned pros who made every night at the Fauborg memorable. But Alex and Robin spot one glimmer of old Hollywood glamour – a beautiful blonde, dressed like a starlet of yesteryear, nursing a complicated drink and looking like somebody has stood her up. Her image comes back to haunt Alex when his best friend, LAPD Homicide Lt. Milo Sturgis, calls him to look at a crime scene and, in spite of her face being blown off, he recognizes the starlet from the Fauborg Hotel.

It takes a while to identify the girl. The task is complicated by the fact that she seemed to use a false name. The case gets a few nudges, at Alex's end, from a client of his who used to be a Hollywood madam, and who now wants Alex to tell her if her little boy will be OK when she dies of cancer. One of the nudges leads them to a dating website that brings gold-digging "sweeties" and sugar daddies together. Eventually, Alex and Milo work out that their sweetie, who went by the code name Mystery, came from a sad background and enjoyed a few years of luxury as the kept woman of a retired tycoon, before he passed away.

Their best suspects include a body guard, last seen outside the Fauborg the night of Mystery's murder, and the two sons of the late sugar daddy, who are carrying on in a similar fashion. Also, one of the sons' wives seems to have had a connection to the bodyguard guy. But is she too nice to be involved in murder? Is he more of a victim than a suspect? Whoever the killer(s) is or are, something psychologically twisted, something sexually perverted, seems to be mixed up in the usual motives of jealousy, money and desperation to keep an explosive secret. Good police work is worth a lot, but in a case like this, there's nothing like having a shrink on the team.

So, the mystery of how a writer with dozens of mysteries to his credit gets away with titling one of his mysteries Mystery turns out to have a pretty solid solution. Maybe what readers will find even more memorable about this book, in distinction from others in the series, is the vein of melancholy running through it. The first signs that something bittersweet is in store come right away, with the closing of the Fauborg and the romantic glimpse of a doomed beauty seated across the room. Faded Hollywood dreams and, of course, terminal cancer also figure in this novel's procession of sad themes. But some of those moments are also punctuated with a twinge of irony, like the digs at the ephemeral vacuity of L.A. that figure in Alex's narrative around the Fauborg scenes, and the cynical character he puts on for his climactic interview with the killer.

Whereas Milo carries some of their joint cases, to the extent that Alex seems mainly to serve as his sounding board, this is a case where some of the big moments of discovery are Alex's alone – and for a tiny moment, his acting is so good that you start to wonder whether he's crossed over to the dark side. And again, Alex stretches the ethical limits of his position with the LAPD in a way that shows that, while he does have legit therapy skills, his real passion is crime. After all the mysteries he's helped solve, it just has to be, doesn't it?

This is the 26th of going on 36 Alex Delaware novels, of which just by chance I happen to have read the previous three in a row (Bones, Evidence, Deception) and for which I have No. 27 on deck, Victims. Other novels by Jonathan Kellerman include the spinoffs Billy Straight and Twisted (featuring LAPD Detective Petra Connor), True Detectives (featuring brothers Moe Reed and Aaron Fox), a handful of other standalone novels (The Butcher's Theater, The Conspiracy Club, The Murderer's Daughter) and some collaborations with his son, Jesse Kellerman, most recently including Half Moon Bay.

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