Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Guilt by Jonathan
The first set of remains are found beneath the roots of a fifty-foot sycamore
that fell during a recent storm. The smell of the previous homeowner, Mrs.
Hannah, who had lived there for fifty-two years, permeates the woodwork, or at
least that's what one of the current residents thinks. Holly Ruche's senses are
sensitive these days: she's late in her pregnancy when she uncovers the blue
metal box buried beneath the tree and is understandably distressed by what she
The bones are wrapped in pages from a newspaper that indicate that the burial
is from the early 1950s. That makes it a very cold case, but Milo Sturgis
investigates all the same, with his loyal companion Alex Delaware at his side.
Few people remember the residents of the house in 1951-52. Official records are spotty
or missing, and the trail of ownership is difficult to follow.
However, against all odds, Delaware turns up a very specific clue: a rare
automobile several people remember seeing parked in the driveway on a few
occasions during the year in question. Very rare—only a few thousand were
ever made, and the details of this specific car narrow down the potential owners
even farther. It's the unlikely sort of clue that makes a reader wonder if a
writer is getting desperate. Not exactly deus ex machina, but close.
Fortunately, Guilt isn't primarily about that cold case. It's more of
a catalyst, as well as something for Delaware to work on during idle moments in
the contemporary case. A few days after Holly Ruche's gruesome discovery, a
second infant skeleton is found in Cheviot Hills Park, which is located in an
affluent neighborhood. Another body, that of an unidentified young woman shot
execution style, is found on the opposite side of the park shortly thereafter.
Whereas Sturgis was able to use his contacts in the local media to publicize
the first case, this option isn't available to him now. Influential people live
near Cheviot Hills—politicians concerned about lucrative real estate
development plans that could be jeopardized by negative publicity. The question
on everyone's minds, though, is whether there can be any connection between the
two cases. It seems too much of a coincidence that baby bones should turn up
within days of each other, but too unlikely that the same perpetrator could have
committed crimes sixty years apart.
In some of Kellerman's novels, Sturgis and Delaware embark on brainstorming
sessions where they come up with a series of ideas based on flimsy evidence,
ideas that later prove to be completely accurate. They brainstorm here, but it's
good to see that some of their notions end up to be far, far off the mark, even
though they act on them as if they were solid. This is the way the real world
works. Just because bones are used in Haitian voodoo rituals doesn't mean witch
doctors or cults are behind the recent killings. Its refreshing to see an author
allowing his characters to be fallible. Not every shot has to hit the target.
Because this case isn't as cold as the other, the possibility of living
witnesses presents itself, although the investigation is hampered because
neither of the victims can be identified. Sturgis uses back door channels to
exploit the media, risking the wrath of his supervisors, but like most renegade
cops of fiction, Sturgis doesn't care and he's more or less bulletproof because
of his exceptional solve rate. Once the dead woman's identity is revealed, the
case heats up. Sturgis and Delaware retrace the path this woman took in life,
from Idaho to San Diego and, ultimately, to her death in a Los Angeles park.
Eventually, the trail leads to the compound owned by celebrities who may at
first remind readers of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, although the resemblance
is circumstantial. Again, first impressions and initial speculations about what
is going on within the enclave is far off the mark, and the truth is more
interesting than these notions. Delaware also manages to put a bow on the cold
case, but this storyline, which dominates the novel's opening chapters, has a
less splashy conclusion than the more recent deaths.
The book's title is somewhat elusive. A note found with one of the victims
proclaims "This is guilt," but it is never made clear what that means,
and the person behind the contemporary murders seems remarkably free of feelings
of guilt. The word itself appears no more than a handful of times in the text.
The stated explanation for the connection between the two sets of infant remains
also stretches credibility. It seems more a matter of plot convenience than the
type of thing anyone would do in real life, no matter how twisted and divorced
from reality they are.
Delaware uses his psychological training more in this novel than he has in
recent books. In one subplot, he has sessions with a reluctant Holly Ruche.
Discovering the buried baby triggered insecurities and concerns about her
relationship with her husband and her own baby. It's good to see Delaware plying
his trade instead of acting like an amateur—and obsessive, reckless—sleuth
all the time. He also meets professionally with one of the compound's residents,
and it is that role that enables Sturgis and him to get to the bottom of the
mystery more than anything else.
Delaware's lover, Robin, makes a few token appearances, but it seems like
Kellerman doesn't know what to do with her, and Sturgis's partner doesn't appear
on stage at all. Delaware's dog makes more of an impression than the most
important people in the lead characters' lives. That's a minor quibble, but an
ongoing issue with the Alex Delaware series, which is now closing in on its
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent
2012. All rights reserved