Guilty pleasures? At my time of life, there should be no guilt involved. I have no intention of troubling the funeral director just yet, but I am nearly six years over my biblically allotted span and I will take every opportunity to enjoy my reading on my terms, and I do love a good series. Yes, I know the analogies – comfortable slippers, well-worn cardigan and all the rest. But why not? When time is not on one’s side, what is the point of enduring the pain of breaking in new shoes? Other metaphors are available, but here are a few of my favourite series by authors who are still with us.
With that heartfelt (not) apology out of the way, here’s my take on the latest Alex Delaware novel from Jonathan Kellerman, Unnatural History. Quick bio. of Dr Alex Delaware (who first appeared in 1985, so he is one of those characters for whom time stands still). He is a Los Angeles forensic psychologist, his live-in girlfriend is a builder/restorer of high end guitars and stringed instruments, and he is involved in crime due to his friendship with Detective Milo Sturgis who is gay, very smart, and a man who, if eating were an Olympic event, would be a multiple gold medal winner.
Adonis ‘Donny’ Klement, an artist who specialises in photography, has been found shot dead in his converted warehouse studio. Three bullets to the chest, bang, bang bang – a concise equilateral triangle. Donny is a member of a very unusual family. His father Viktor is an elusive and secretive billionaire businessman, so careful to escape publicity that not a single photograph of him exists. He has a strange habit. He marries, fathers a child, and then moves on. Donny was the latest progeny, but he had several half-siblings.
By all accounts, Donny was gentle, talented, but rather naive. His most recent project was called The Wishers. He recruited several homeless down-and-outs, dressed them in exotic and fantastical costumes,and photographed them. They were well paid, but was one of them deranged enough to come back and murder the man who, if only for a brief hour, had enabled them to act out their fantasies?
Delaware and Sturgis are convinced that the murder of Klement is connected with the street people he brought into his studio, and when one of them – a deaf mute woman called Jangles – is found strangled, it begins to look as if they are right. Or are they? There is an elegant and clever plot twist which confirms that they were, but not quite in the way they were expecting.
As well as Kellerman’s taut dialogue and plotting, we should not forget that he is up there with the best writers (including his contemporary Michael Connolly and the Master himself, Raymond Chandler) in bringing to life the dramatic contrasts of the LA landscape, with its beaches, grim neon strip-malls, spectacular hills and – more recently – the horrific shanty cities full of homeless down-and-outs. Yes, of course this is ‘formula fiction’, but it is also CriFi of the highest quality. Delaware and Sturgis are perfect partners; they are a long way from being ‘two peas in a pod’, but each feeds off the other’s strengths and abilities. Unnatural History is a riveting read, and will be available from Century/Penguin Random House from 16th February. Click the image below to read more reviews of books by Jonathan Kellerman.