Kellerman on his game

What has Bob Moyer been reading lately? It’s a mystery.

By Robert Moyer

MYSTERY. An Alex Delaware Novel. By Jonathan Kellerman. Ballantine Books. 320 pages. $28.

Mystery would seem a presumptuous title for a genre all about them. The Mystery here, however, is merely the moniker of an older-than-she-looks bimbo trolling the Internet for an older-than-the-hills sugar daddy.

Mystery becomes a mystery herself when she turns up dead.  When L.A.P.D. Lt. Milo Sturgis shows his series partner, psychologist Alex Delaware, a picture of her faceless corpse, the good doctor recognizes her from the night before.  Her B-movie starlet quality had caught his attention in the landmark Hollywood bar where he and his girl friend went for a drink.  The venerable investigators head off to find out who she was, who was the sinister guy outside the bar, and who killed her.

And the fun begins.  After 36 Delaware novels, Jonathan Kellerman has developed a formula that his followers inevitably find enjoyable even if the crime doesn’t always come up to snuff.  In this latest adventure, he hits all the marks competently.

The two banter their way into the investigation, bandying clues and concepts back and forth.  Milo eats too much and gets food on his tie, and they take a few turns around Hollywood in Delaware’s vintage Cadillac.  After a while, they take intuitive leaps into tangled conclusions that don’t pan out.  They always have an abundance of suspects, and this book’s group, straight out of central casting for a B-movie, has a Hollywood noir quality: the sugar daddy’s septuagenarian widow, an ex-starlet handy with a six-gun; his two swinging sons with a shared love-nest; and his two sour daughters-in-law.

The clever conclusion, which Kellerman conceals well here, keeps this latest in the series above average.  The best of Dr. Delaware’s adventures also feature a subplot that puts him into contact with a child; Delaware’s counsel to his young client in this case adds a poignant dimension to the narrative. Counseling is what Delaware does; this book is what Kellerman does.  They both do their jobs well.

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