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Jonathan Kellerman

THE BURNING . . . Between the covers

Burning027 copy

The Kellerman family – Jonathan, Faye and now Jesse – seem to be able to turn out highly readable thrillers at the flick of a switch. My personal favourites are the Alex Delaware novels, but this is the second Clay Edison book I’ve read, and it’s excellent. The Burning is billed as 4 of 4, so the series will come nowhere near the astonishing 36 books books of the Delaware series (with the 37th due next year) You can read my review of the 36th, Serpentine, by clicking the link. My review of the third Clay Edison book, Lost Souls is here.

Burning028But back to Clay Edison. He is a Deputy US Coroner in Berkeley, California, and The Burning begins, quite topically, with a destructive bush fire that has knocked out power supplies for everyone except those with their own generators. When Edison and his partner are summoned to retrieve a corpse from a mansion up in the hills, they find that Rory Vandervelde – a multi millionaire – has died from gunshot wounds. He was an avid collector. Rare baseball and basketball memorabilia, Swiss watches, antique knives – you name it, and Vandervelde had bought it. It is when Edison is inspecting the dead man’s astonishing collection of classic cars, stored in a huge garage, that he discovers something that sends a shiver down his spine, and not in a pleasant way.

“I’d missed the Camaro on my way in. So much to gawk at. Eyes not yet adjusted. I saw it now. It was, to be specific, a 1969 SS/Z28. V8 engine, concealed headlights, black racing stripes, custom leather upholstery.

A hell of a car. One that I recognised specifically. I had seen it before. Not once, but many times.

It was my brother’s.”

Edison muses that there has to be an innocent explanation why his brother’s prize possession – a car he had restored from near junk – is in the murdered man’s garage. He surely wouldn’t have sold it to him? Luke Edison is a reformed addict who has done jail time for killing two women in a drug fuelled car theft, but he has rebuilt not only the car, but his life. Simple solution – call Luke on his cell phone. No answer. Repeated calls just go to voice mail. Clay Edison has the black feeling that something is very, very wrong, but in an instinct for family protection, he tries to prevent any of his law enforcement colleagues from identifying the vehicle’s owner and linking him with the murder.

No-one – Luke’s neurotic hippy partner, his parents, his boss at a marijuana-based therapy start-up – has seen or heard of Luke for several days. Working off the record, explaining to no-one what he is doing, and sensing that his brother is a victim rather than a perpetrator, Clay Edison finally discovers that his brother is being used as bait by some seriously evil characters who – as payback for deaths in their family for which they hold him, Clay, responsible – are prepared to stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

I finished this book during a return train journey and a quick hour before bedtime. It is ridiculously readable. Yes, it’s slick, unmistakably American, and probably formulaic but, as the late, great British film reviewer Barry Norman used to say, “And why not?” Just shy of 300 pages, it is everything that is good about American thriller fiction – fast, exciting and  – like Luke Edison’s Camaro – a bumpy but exhilarating ride. I have no idea who wrote what in the Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman partnership, but who cares? Published by Century, The Burning is out on 21st September in Kindle and hardback, and will be available next year in paperback.

Camaro

THE MUSEUM OF DESIRE . . . Between the covers

MOD coverThe strange-looking empty mansion in the dry hills above Los Angeles is rented out as a venue for everything from cancer charity fundraisers to wild parties. As the much put-upon guy from the agency wearily pushes his cart of cleaning materials up the hill, he is expecting the usual joyless cocktail of spilled food, used needles and condoms. What he actually finds causes him to part company with his breakfast burrito.

In a stretch limo parked in front of the house, he finds four people, each very, very dead, and with the floor of the car swimming in blood. Cue another case for LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware. Veterans of the long-running series (this is book number 35 since When The Bough Breaks in 1985) will know the basic set-up. Delaware’s day job is in child psychology, while Sturgis is, in now particular order, gay, unkempt, a brilliant cop and eternally hungry.

The four corpses in the limo seem to have nothing at all in common aprt from being dead; a thirty-something professional bachelor with an insatiable – but perfectly legal – love life, and elderly chauffeur, a gentle and harmless man with mental problems who lives in sheltered accommodation, and a rather unprepossessing middle-aged woman who, it transpires, had drink and drug issues, and lived mostly on the streets. To add to the mystery, the forensic team analyses the blood on the floor of the car – and it is canine.

Delaware and Sturgis are convinced that the killings took place elsewhere, and the interior of the limo was an elaborate stage set. But who is the director of this hellish drama, what is the message of the play, and who was the intended audience?

jonathan-kellermanBit by bit, one slender thread at a time, the tangle of the mystery is unpicked. As per usual Kellerman (right) gives us a spectacularly complex solution to the quadruple murder. It’s almost as if we are passengers on a train journey, and some of the sights that flash by the window before we reach our destination include erotic Renaissance paintings, a chillingly damaged autistic teenager and a brief glimpse of Herman Göring’s fabled collection of looted art.

There will be, no doubt, some people who will look down their noses at this book – and others like it – while dismissing it as formulaic. Of course it is written on a certain template, but that’s what makes it readable. That’s why readers turn, again and again, to books that are part of long running series. We don’t want John Rebus to start behaving like Jack Reacher, any more than we will be happy for Carol Jordan to turn into Jane Marple. The Museum of Desire is slickly written, for sure, but I think a better word is ‘polished’. Both the dialogue and interaction between Delaware and Sturgis crackle with their usual intensity, and we are not short-changed in any respect in terms of plot twists and deeply unpleasant villains.

The Museum of Desire is published by Century/Arrow/Cornerstone Digital, came out in hardback  and Kindle earlier this year, but this paperback edition will be available from 12th November.

LOST SOULS . . . Between the covers

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51K-Sy2OGJL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Lost Souls is something of an oddity, and no mistake. There’s nothing at all wrong with the novel itself apart from something of an identity crisis. Search for it on Amazon UK, and up it comes, but the page URL contains the title Half Moon Bay. Search for Half Moon Bay and up comes the same novel, but with a different cover. It looks as though Half Moon Bay is the Penguin Random House American title, while on this side of the Atlantic Century are going with Lost Souls.

Deputy US Coroner Clay Edison first appeared in Crime Scene (2017). That was followed by A Measure of Darkness in 2018, and now Edison returns but this time with baby Charlotte to look after when his wife is out on shift in her hospital. The Edisons live in that eternal bastion of West Coast sensibilities, Berkeley, and it is in the infamous People’s Park that the case begins.

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Clay Edison is called to the park, scene of decades of hippy protest. Two bodies have been found during building excavation. The first is neither human nor animal. It is a stuffed blue teddy bear, missing an eye. The second is the skeleton of a baby, and the glare of the pathologist’s strip lights reveal that it was once a little boy. Edison is drawn into an investigation to see if the teddy bear and the boy are connected, and this means he has to visit a truly terrifying settlement of biker red-necks:

“I bounced along the tracks, wheels spitting gravel. Slowly the smudge began to resolve like a body surfacing in swamp water. Structures, then vehicles, then living things: gaunt dogs and children chasing one another, their roles as hunter or prey in constant flux. Bare feet raised a dusty haze. ….. Amid a weedy patch a woman slouched in a lawn chair. Pustulant acne ravaged her face; she could have been eighteen or forty. A slack-limbed toddler slept on her chest.”

51wZ1Fd-WIL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_As Edison tries to link the skeleton of the baby with the abandoned cuddly toy, he accepts an ‘off-the-books’ job. A wealthy businessman, Peter Franchette, asks him to try to find the truth about his missing sister. Possibly abducted, perhaps murdered, she has disappeared into a complexity of disfunctional family events – deaths, walkouts, divorces, remarriages and rejections.

The Kellermans clearly have an ambivalent view of Berkeley. A place perhaps, where a seventy-something former revolutionary might wake up and imagine, for a fleeting moment, before old age and reality kick in, that it is 1966, and everything is still possible. The reality is more sobering, however:

” … and the countless others, men and women alike, who’d found their way to the Pacific, only to find that it was not the golden bath they’d expected but a terrifying force of nature, immense and violent and indifferent.”

I’ll be blunt and say that I have never understood the concept of writing partnerships in fiction. Over many years I enjoyed Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware books. They are slick and formulaic, but never less than gripping, and it is obvious that Kellerman is a gifted writer. Why he should want to want to pair up with someone else – even if it is his son – is for him to know and me to be left wondering. Lost Souls reads as if it has been written by one person, so I suppose that is all that matters.

Lost Souls is cleverly written and has a plot which is, like Chandler’s immortal The Big Sleep, deeply complex. Rather like the anecdote which has Chandler being asked who killed the chauffeur, and him replying that he wasn’t sure, I couldn’t put my hand on my heart and say that Edison finds Peter Franchette’s missing sister. I think he does, but you must judge for yourselves.

Lost Souls and/or Half Moon Bay are out now, and available here.

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