True Detectives, by Jonathan Kellerman

Writing a successful series character can (or so they tell me) be a trial (albeit a profitable one) for an author. There’s an inherent problem with series characters. Generally in fiction, one of an author’s chief purposes is to dramatize personal change. A character grows through his experiences in the story. He makes difficult and costly choices and grows a bit as a human being. This gives the story a point, and satisfies the reader.

But series characters can’t have life-changing experiences with every story. Nobody changes that much in their lifetime, and if they did, they’d soon cease to be the characters readers have fallen in love with.

So series authors like to stretch themselves now and then. Sometimes they’ll write one-offs. And sometimes they’ll create new series characters.

Jonathan Kellerman, author of the Alex Delaware psychological mysteries, has chosen the second course with his latest in paperback, True Detectives. He’s taken two characters he introduced in his last Alex Delaware book and given them their own story. In my opinion, they’re worth the trouble.

Moses Reed and Aaron Fox are half-brothers, sons of the same mother. Their fathers were policemen, and partners until one of them was killed in the line of duty. Moses is white, Aaron is black, and their uneasy relationship mirrors the racial tensions of the city (and country) they live in.

Moses is a police detective on the cold case squad, still learning his job (his mentor is Milo Sturgis, the “gay” detective who’s a regular in the Alex Delaware books). He’s a very buttoned-up, by-the-book sort. He keeps his feelings bottled up, doesn’t care for grandstanding.

Aaron is a private detective whose business allows him to live a pretty glamorous life. He drives nice cars and buys expensive clothing in quantity. He’s relaxed about his life and about the rules.

Moses and Aaron rub each other the wrong way, even when they’re trying not to.

The case of Caitlin Frostig brings them together, though with reluctance. Moses is working it in the line of duty, and Aaron gets it as an assignment from his best client, a rich Russian immigrant who employs Caitlin’s father. Caitlin was a straight-A, straight arrow kid, a devout Christian. She seems unlikely to have run away, but if so, who killed her and why, and where’s the body?

Turns out her ex-boyfriend hangs out with some high-profile (and kinky) Hollywood types, people with the juice to get their mistakes covered up for them. Moses and Aaron start hammering at the brick wall of Tinsletown, and find a possible connection to the disappearance of a young prostitute and her baby. The answers they find are strange and sometimes horrible.

One Hollywood character in the book seems to be a mixture of the least appealing qualities of Michael Moore and Mel Gibson. I was worried about a parody of Gibson’s Christianity, but Kellerman is a master of even-handed criticism, tweaking liberals and conservatives evenly and causing no offense. Wishy-washy? Perhaps, but I appreciate it. I don’t read mysteries for political or religious insight (unless it agrees with my opinions, in which case it’s OK).

A good book, well worth the read. Cautions for language and adult situations apply.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.