This is another case for psychologist Professor Alex Delware and his buddy, LAPD cop Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. As ever, the book is brimming with all the joys of Californication – fake lifestyle gurus, washed-up former pop stars, bent lawyers, damaged families and dead bodies – always plenty of dead bodies. The first of these is of a young man, stark naked, who – in an apparent psychotic episode – runs out from a house in a smart district in the LA suburbs, at 4.00am – and straight into the side of a moving truck. Instant fatality.
When the cops investigate the house from which the young man ran, they find the second corpse of the morning, with her throat slit. She is – or rather was – Cordi Gannet. She made a decent living producing lifestyle videos for YouTube, full of cod psychology and trite advice about life improvement strategies. Her psychology degree was apparently bought mail-order from an on-line university, and when Alex Delaware gets to the scene with Milo, he remembers that he was once involved in a child custody case where Cordi Gannet was introduced as an expert witness – with disastrous consequences.
They soon find that Cordi Gannet’s family background was suitably California Chaotic – no known father, a mother who scraped by waiting tables until she got lucky and married an affluent surgeon. As for the young man, after much tail-chasing they learn that he was a harmless and affable young hairdresser who had something of a ‘gay-crush’ on Ms Gannet with all her pan flutes and whale songs, but had no obvious enemies.
The investigation meanders, slows – and then grinds to a halt. Delaware and Sturgis are sidetracked by another murder – the killing of a violent testosterone-fueled bodybuilder whose onetime business partner was a former adversary of Delaware’s in the family courts. This one they manage to crack, but it is not until Delaware goes back to the day job and begins consultation sessions with another pair of warring parents – one of whom was a near neighbour of Cordi Gannet, that the breakthrough comes.
Watching the Delaware-Sturgis partnership work on a case is fascinating. Yes, by my reckoning this is the 37th in the series. No, that’s not a typo. Thirty seven since their debut in When The Bough Breaks (1985). 1985. Blimey. Amongst other ground-breaking events in that year, I read that Playboy stopped stapling its centrefolds, the first episode of Eastenders was broadcast, and Freddie Mercury stole the show at Live Aid. But I digress.
There are no surprises in City of The Dead, at least in terms of the personal dynamics between the investigators. Delaware is super-cool, Sturgis has zero dress sense and is inveterate fridge raider, and the pair never really get ‘down and dirty’ with the criminals they hunt. In spite of the familiar formula, this is still a cracking read and cleverly plotted, with Kellerman (right) setting several snares for the unwary reader. City of The Dead is published by Century, and will be available from 17th February.