Book review: Killer by Jonathan Kellerman

Staying at the top of your murderous game for three decades is no easy feat for any crime novelist…

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 18th March 2014, 9:00 am
Killer by Jonathan Kellerman
Killer by Jonathan Kellerman

So full marks to Jonathan Kellerman, the acclaimed master of psychological suspense, who scores a brilliant bullseye in Killer, his 36th classy thriller and another grim and gripping chapter in the life and work of LA ‘Crime Reader’ Alex Delaware.

Criminal psychologist Delaware’s latest case sees both the writer and his creation on tip-top form in a spellbinding urban noir portrayal of the darkest impulses of human nature carried to shocking extremes.

Kellerman, who trained as a clinical psychologist but is now one of the world’s most popular authors, brings his own medical expertise to a raft of stories which explore humans at their best and worst as well as delivering exciting and authentic whodunits.

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Alex is currently taking a break from his work at Los Angeles Police Department to make a court report on a woman involved in a bizarre and bitter child custody dispute with her own sister.

Constance Sykes – forty-something, owner of a Beverly Hills private medical testing laboratory and super-rich – claims her down-and-out sister Cherie is an unfit mother to her 16-month-old baby Rambla.

Constance claims Cherie dumped the child on her for three months which effectively means that she forfeited all rights to her.

But all is not what it seems in the case of Sykes v Sykes. Constance is a loner who ‘doesn’t get people’ and Alex doesn’t trust her flat brown eyes and ‘creepy inanimate confidence’ which is usually only seen in psychopaths locked up in supermax cells.

She is also unaccustomed to losing and when Alex’s no-hold-barred report effectively blocks her custody claim, Connie makes a death threat to Alex.

At first, Alex shrugs off the threat until his pal at LAPD, Lieutenant Milo Sturgis, informs him that the shocking word on the street is that a hit been taken out on him. But after a brutal murder and the disappearance of Cheri and the baby, Alex’s search for answers leads him to Hollywood washouts, self-serving jurists and even Machiavellian judges.

As the darkest of secrets are peeled away, Alex must stop a vicious killer and save a child from a life of nightmares...

With his razor-sharp plotting, gift for pithy dialogue and ability to home in on the criminal mind, Kellerman’s deep, dark books have built up a huge fan base. His trusty trademarks are intelligent plotting, logic, humanity, and a gift for telling a story through a sequence of addictively descriptive word ‘pictures’.

Killer is a slow-build, insidiously simmering mystery which asks not only who did it, but why did they do it. The handling of child custody cases in America also comes under close scrutiny and Kellerman provides startling insights into human behaviour and motivations.

Driven by an electrifying element of suspense throughout and full of twists and turns, excellent police procedural detail and emotional rollercoaster rides, this is a story to both thrill and chill.

(Headline, hardback, £18.99)