Tag Archives: Alex Delaware

Linkage

Marcus Selmer photograph

The wonderful Mirabilis.ca shares a link to information on the Dano-Norwegian photographer Marcus Selmer, who left remarkable images of 19th Century Norwegian peasants.

And Dave Lull passes on news about a planned TV series based on Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis books.

I expect they’ll ruin it by making Milo a militant gay, but the news is interesting anyway.

‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ by Jonathan Kellerman

Heartbreak Hotel

I don’t know how Jonathan Kellerman does it. The premise of his Alex Delaware novels is pretty implausible – child psychologist works as consultant for the L.A. Police Department, and gets closely involved in a long series of homicide cases at the request of his friend, Detective Lt. Milo Sturgis (the least gay homosexual in literature). But not only does Kellerman make it work, he keeps the series fresh and exciting.

In Heartbreak Hotel, Alex receives a call from Thalia Mars, an elderly lady (nearing 100, he learns) who lives in a private cottage at a “hotel” which is actually a recovery facility for cosmetic surgery patients. She offers a high retainer for a little of his time, but he goes to see her mostly out of curiosity. A charming lady, she asks him whether he believes there’s such a thing as a criminal personality. Then she promises to tell him something of her story when he returns the next day.

But there is no second appointment. Overnight Thalia is murdered. Alex calls Milo, and Milo catches the case.

Thalia is a woman of mystery. She has hid her past, and the sources of her wealth, well. But Alex and Milo go to work following clues to old gangland crimes from more than a half century in the past, to thwart a conspiracy of “criminal personalities” who think Thalia owed them something. The climax is shocking, and the anticlimax more shocking still, in its own way.

I loved Heartbreak Hotel. Pure mystery reading pleasure. Highly recommended, with cautions for adult themes and (probably, though I didn’t actually notice) language.

‘Breakdown,’ by Jonathan Kellerman

The big problem with a successful, ongoing fiction series is self-repetition. The template for Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels is pretty well established. Dr. Delaware, successful child psychologist, gets a call from his police detective buddy Milo Sturgis (overweight, conservative, and “gay”), who asks him to advise him on some case in progress. Alex happily cooperates, and together they uncover motive, means, and opportunity. (In real life, of course, Alex would never be allowed to meddle in police work that way, and defense lawyers would have a heyday with his involvement. But in the real world both Alex and Milo would be long retired by now, so why mess with success?).

In Breakdown, the latest in the series, author Kellerman jiggers the template a little. This time it’s Alex who asks for Milo’s help in a case of his own. Some years ago, he was called in to consult on the welfare of a child at risk. The little boy’s mother was an actress on a TV sitcom. She had personality disorders, but seemed to be functioning all right as a mother, and Alex found her son highly intelligent but otherwise normal.

Now he gets a call from a mental health worker. The actress, long out of work, has been found living on the streets, psychotic. Her primary psychologist is dead, so Alex is now the health care professional of record on the file. Alex talks to the former actress, being held in a ridiculous government-funded facility (which gives the author a chance to make some pointed comments on our current mental health system). She’s almost completely psychotic now. There seems to be no record that she ever had a child, and Alex, driven by concern and guilt, enlists Milo in trying to uncover the actress’s past, to see what happened to the boy.

What they uncover is a dark family secret and a string of unsolved murders going back decades.

I always enjoy the Alex Delaware books, and this one pleased me particularly. I love cold case stories, and Breakdown was a fascinating one.

‘Guilt,’ by Jonathan Kellerman

Another Alex Delaware novel from Jonathan Kellerman, another enjoyable reading experience. The series is long established now, and few surprises are to be expected, except perhaps in terms of whodunnit. But the virtues of the books are consistent. Good main characters, interesting, layered secondary characters. And a studied avoidance of cheap shots at almost anybody, including conservative Christians.

In Guilt, Alex and his gay cop friend, Milo Sturgis, are called to a house where a tree has been uprooted in a storm. Under its roots was found a metal box, and in the box the carefully wrapped skeleton of a baby. A newspaper in the box identifies the burial as from 1951.

Then, in a nearby park, another, newer baby skeleton is found, as well as the body of a young woman, a girl from Oregon who worked as a nanny. Suspicion soon points to an A-list celebrity couple raising their brood of adopted children in seclusion on a heavily guarded estate. It’s easy to imagine what might have happened.

But it’s not as simple as that.

The great joy of a Kellerman novel, novels written by a psychologist about a psychologist, is how the characters reveal themselves, in a sort of psychic undressing. A shallow expectant mother is revealed to be so frightened about the future that she’s having trouble coping. A celebrity turns out to be entirely different than one would expect – or is it all just an act at the end? Nothing interests me like complex human personalities, and that’s where Kellerman excels.

There are some Christian fundamentalists in this one, and Kellerman treats them with his customary decency. An Oregon evangelical pastor who wouldn’t impose his “personal” views about homosexuality on his parishioners seems a bit of a stretch, but it’s a generous stretch by Kellerman’s lights, so I take it in the spirit intended.

Recommended, with the usual caveats.

Victims, by Jonathan Kellerman

Vita Berlin was the nastiest woman in the neighborhood. She complained about everything, was rude to everyone, and pushed people around at the first sign of weakness. Still – as even the father of a child with cancer, whom she’d publicly berated, admits – nobody deserves to have their neck broken and be disemboweled in their own apartment.

So begins Victims, another in Jonathan Kellerman’s long-running Alex Delaware mystery series. Alex is a child psychologist, but long ago he became Detective Lt. Milo Sturgis’ go-to expert whenever a psycho murder shows up. Which this most definitely is, because it’s soon followed by the murders of a mild-mannered accountant, a young married couple, and a homeless man, all killed and mutilated in about the same way. No connection between the victims seems apparent.

There are similar themes here to Michael Connelly’s recent book, The Drop, which I reviewed the other day. Both stories deal with the question of evil, and how it comes to exist in human beings. There’s no answer to that question in this world, of course (and even in theology we’re left with a lot unanswered), but there’s plenty of room for both empathy and a sense of justice, though they sometimes have to wrestle each other. Victims ended on an unusually downbeat note, but it was entirely appropriate, and (I thought) rather moving.

Highly recommended, with the usual cautions for language and adult subject matter.

Mystery, by Jonathan Kellerman

Most detective series novels require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief (and the more you know about real police work, the more is required). Fans (like me) of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series are expected to believe that a Los Angeles psychologist would spend a large part of his free time helping a police detective friend solve crimes, and that the department would smile on the arrangement. But hey, the formula’s in place, it works, why rattle the scenery flats?

The title of Mystery is not a desperate, “I’ve run out of titles” reference to the book’s genre, but the name of the murder victim, a high end prostitute who operated under that name. By pure chance, Alex and his girlfriend Robin, out drinking the night before the murder, saw her sitting alone in a hotel bar, and wondered about the elegant-looking girl who seemed to be waiting for someone who never showed up. The next time Alex sees her is when his shlumpy homosexual detective friend, Milo Sturgis, asks him to come and see the murder scene, where her body has been dumped near a road in the Hollywood Hills. They still don’t know who she is, though, and further investigations lead them to a wealthy, extremely dysfunctional family with a lot of secrets.

I marvel at Kellerman’s ability to keep his formula fresh. What makes this book sing is the author’s profound psychological insight. A particular pleasure this time out is a sub-plot involving a former madame who is dying of cancer and wants Alex’s help in preparing her six-year-old son for her death. The madame’s character is wonderfully complex, at once acutely narcissistic and genuinely maternal. She comes off the page as a fully-rounded, living person, pathetic, offensive and (in some ways) admirable.

There was an oblique echo (not explicitly spelled out) of Kellerman’s belief, stated in his nonfiction book, Savage Spawn, that it’s unhealthy to teach children to use guns. I consider that entirely wrong, but he didn’t preach about it.

Recommended, with the usual cautions for language, violence, and sexual themes.

Evidence, by Jonathan Kellerman

Evidence Kellerman

You’re probably tired of my reviews of paperback mysteries, especially ones by the small string of my favorite authors, among whom Jonathan Kellerman is not least. So this will be more an appreciation than a review.

In brief, Evidence is a well-crafted, compelling police procedural, in which psychologist Alex Delaware is mostly along for the ride, as his buddy Detective Milo Sturgis investigates the murder of a couple, found posed in a sexual position, in an unfinished beachside mansion. The investigation leads to a secretive, extremist environmentalist plot.

Much of my enjoyment of this book was strictly partisan and ideological. I don’t know Kellerman’s politics, but he throws conservatives some red meat. First of all, he balances the fact that Det. Sturgis is gay (the least “gay” man possible, in terms of stereotypes), by throwing in Det. Sean Binchy, an open evangelical. Sean has a small part in the book, but he’s smart, decent and hard-working.

Note to Hollywood—I accept token characters. I embrace them. I’m shamelessly gullible in this regard.



Also, the things said in this book about certain elements (certainly not the majority) of the environmentalist movement shocked me. If green terrorism is indeed as common and deadly as this story suggests, the press has a lot of covering up to answer for. The enviro-nuts in Evidence act the way pro-lifers usually act in Hollywood movies and TV shows. Which is saying, pretty darn bad.

So I had a great time with Evidence. Recommended, with the usual caveats for language and adult subject matter.

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. Continue reading True Detectives, by Jonathan Kellerman