REVIEW: GUILT BY JONATHAN KELLERMAN

GUILT

Author: Jonathan Kellerman
Headline RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

Cover of Guilt by Jonathan KellermanIt’s been more than a few years since I’ve picked up a Jonathan Kellerman psycho-crime thriller. For a while there I read his books as fast as they came out … and then there came a point when I couldn’t read them anymore. It was a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me”, really. At the time, for various reasons, I just could not handle reading about sociopaths and psychopaths; it was too unnerving, too unsettling. I’m in a different place now, so I didn’t balk when Guilt landed on my desk. I read it over 24 hours; fast-paced and tense, the story line sucked me in and spat me out at the end, tired but satisfied.

A young woman finds an old, rusted metal strongbox buried in her backyard. Curious, she opens the box and makes a gruesome discovery – a tiny human skeleton swaddled in sheets of 60-year-old newspaper. Theories abound once the case reaches the media and Lt Milo Sturgis asks psychologist Alex Delaware to help him find a motive. Before they can get far, the heat is on with news of two more bodies found. The skeletal remains of a baby have been found in a nearby park, wrapped almost in imitation of the other case. But it’s soon clear that this baby died only recently and its bones were stripped of flesh through means other than natural decomposition. It’s hard to maintain professional detachment when faced with a case like this. Is there a copycat out there? Or is there a link between the two finds.

The third body is that of a young woman who has been shot in the head. Investigation shows she was a religious woman with a strong moral code and no known enemies, but did she have a secret life? Or did she just unwittingly get caught up in something far bigger than anyone could imagine? The case has Sturgis and Delaware on edge, shaken and disturbed – the more they dig, the more they are stonewalled; it’s clear that some powerful players are manipulating things behind the scenes. The cases reek of unprecedented narcissism, cruelty, deceit and a psychopath whose cold objectification of the human spirit is nothing short of evil. But those familiar with Sturgis and Delaware know this: they never give up.

Guilt is book number 28 in the Alex Delaware series. You can read the Delaware books as stand-alones, but if you like to see full character development over time and changing circumstances, it does of course help to start from the beginning. Delaware is a great character – caring, compassionate, empathetic and level-headed. He’s the kind of man who can’t stop his mind whirring – at many times during this novel he’s just unable to let go, relax and leave work in the office. One thing I loved this time around was his ability to remain detached when clients tried to pry into his personal life or to make his hackles rise. He would deflect such questioning easily – politely, but firmly. I wish I could do that! He’s a good, decent man, but not boring – which is why readers love him. Sturgis, although he is the police officer, takes the role of the sidekick in the series. He’s also an interesting character, a man of contrasts – he’s a big, “bearish” man who just happens to be gay.

Some may say the writing is formulaic and/or predictable. In terms of structure, maybe so. Each chapter ends with the reader left hanging. The chapters are short, making the reading pace fast (“I’ll just read one more chapter …”) and there’s the typical amateur detective plus sidekick thing happening. However, I can’t really compare this book with any recent ones by the same author, so I’d have to read a few of the backlist to judge this book on that alone. Instead, my response is based on how I felt. Did I feel tense, caught up in the story? Yes. Did I get to a point of no-turning back that made me keep reading even though it was late? Yes. Did I like the protagonists and loathe the bad guy/gal … even though I didn’t know who that was for a long time? Yes. Kellerman knows what he’s doing. He’s got the psycho-thriller down to an art. And despite cringing at the evil-ness that transpired, I enjoyed being part of the chase to bring the bad guy down.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: I was craving Chinese food at one point … the guys were eating some pretty tasty stuff and well, I wanted some too.