A tangled case, a lot of laughs

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

Bob Moyer finds much to like in Jonathan Kellerman’s latest whodunit.

NIGHT MOVES. By Jonathan Kellerman. Ballantine. 395 pages. $28.99

Psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis have been tackling tangled cases over a number of books, a number of years. The astute intuition of Alex, the steely procedure of Milo, have made them the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of modern American crime fiction.

Over the years, they, and Jonathan Kellerman, have gotten very comfortable with the relationship, turning it into one of easy bonhomie, as they banter and trade bon mots. Part of the pleasure after all this time is the other side of their relationship —Sherlock Holmes and Costello, or Abbott and Dr. Watson.

That ease of exchange lies at the heart of the continuing appeal of this series. In this latest case, someone places a faceless, handless, bloodless body in a locked house for a family to discover when they return from dinner. The family turns out to be less than forthcoming, the neighborhood does not belong to Mr. Rogers, and the duo has little to start with.

So they do what they do best — they banter hypotheses as they do bad jokes. Like this one: “A scam with an enraged victim. An affair – or even a sexual assault. Chet’s on the road all the time, maybe a business trip went really bad. Or it’s something to do with Felice’s private life and the killer’s throwing it in Chet’s face. Or both of them are involved…why was this house chosen? And again, why bother to schlep the body?”

Of course, this isn’t the solution; there’s many a hypothesis between page 42 and page 395. But these forays, always a flurry of possibilities, occur in dialogue, not interior monologue. It enables the team to apply procedure, engage the reader —and allows the author to mislead us by keeping the killer hidden in plain sight. Somewhere in all of their probing, they pass over the killer, and ultimately circle back to find him or her.

Night Moves is one of the most intricately constructed cases Kellerman has come up with. The untangling of the thicket of clues comes only at the very end of the book, to great satisfaction after a voluble and entertaining trip. Although it’s a worthy addition to this venerable series, Kellerman’s latest is also quite a good stand-alone for first-time readers. It’s a little “Whodunit?” mixed up with “Who’s on first?”

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