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Onyx reviews: The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman

The Conspiracy Club is Kellerman's first non-Delaware standalone novel since Billy Straight and it is a breath of fresh air. Whenever Kellerman puts Delaware aside, he seems to find new creative energy. Still, he doesn't stray far from his tried-and-true characters.

Jeremy Carrier is a psychologist at a large hospital in an unspecified Midwest City whose girlfriend Jocelyn was recently murdered. He is still grieving her loss while simultaneously having to deal with the fact that the police still consider him a prime suspect in her brutal death. He buries himself in his work, at which he excels. He has an almost mystical ability to put patients about to go into surgery or undergoing radical treatments at ease, a kind of facile hypnosis that even he doesn't understand and which amazes him every time it works.

This physician can't heal himself, though. His parents were killed in a car accident when he was young and his childhood was spent in foster homes. He lives a solitary life outside of work, and even at the hospital he cherishes the isolation provided after his department is moved to smaller quarters and he gets a secluded office on a different floor from everyone else.

He shuns new connections. When a hospital pathologist, Arthur Chess, makes overtures of friendship, Jeremy resists. He also deliberately ignores the obvious interest expressed by attractive Dr. Angela Rios, a second year medical resident at the hospital. Not in the mood for the mating game, he uses his nebulous "schedule" to excuse himself from personal involvement.

As a psychologist, Jeremy has strong feelings about the nature of evil and the criminal mind. When he expresses these feelings during an unguarded moment, he catches the attention of a group of people who share his sentiments; people who have all suffered great loss in their lives without receiving the satisfaction of knowing the perpetrator had been caught and punished.

After he accepts an invitation to an elegant dinner with a group of older men and women who have an interest in crime and punishment, Jeremy starts receiving mysterious interdepartmental mailings, pieces of a puzzle that he didn't realize existed. He has no idea who is sending him these obtuse messages or why. As with the other recent tentative offerings of relationships, Jeremy refuses to play along at first, but eventually his interest—and self-interest—is piqued.

He also decides to reciprocate Angela Rios' interest and the couple starts dating, but Jeremy can't help but compare it to his relationship with Jocelyn. He is reluctant to open up to his new lover about the things that mean the most to him—his childhood, the murder and the mysterious clues being sent his way, but their connection slowly grows into something intense and new for Jeremy.

Once he turns his attention to pursuing the mystery behind the clues he is being sent, Jeremy begins to merge somewhat with Alex Delaware. He shares his predecessor's flaw of recklessly throwing himself into danger without availing himself of police assistance. Even when he has assembled enough information to perhaps convince persistent Detective Doresh to consider an alternate explanation for Jocelyn's murder, he goes it alone, threatening his new relationships, his job and his life.

All in the name of dramatic tension, of course. If Jeremy let the police handle matters, he wouldn't find himself in risky and threatening situations. He also wouldn't find himself following the clues in the wrong direction.

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