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Onyx reviews: Double Homicide by Jonathan and Faye Kellerman

Novellas are problematic. They’re too short to publish standalone—unless they’re inspirational or seasonal—and too long for most short fiction markets. Husband and wife authors Jonathan and Faye Kellerman came up with an interesting solution to this dilemma by combining two novellas into a single volume.

Double Homicide is packaged like an old Ace Doubles science fiction paperback. No matter which way you pick it up you get a front cover, one for the Boston-based story “In the Land of Giants” and the other for the Santa Fe tale “Still Life.” The latter setting has the local art scene to justify its location, but the Boston story could take place anywhere high school kids play basketball and own guns. Neither author has previously used these cities as settings. There are few indications which author is responsible for which story, or if they are collaborations. Part of the fun is in guessing who might have written what.

“In the Land of Giants” starts with the shooting of a promising high school basketball player at a nightclub after a contentious game. The two cops investigating the murder were in attendance at the game: Michael McCain and Dorothy Benton, the single mother of a player on the home team. The inquiry starts as an exploration of school violence, but changes course when the medical examiner reports that the bullet wound didn’t cause the teen’s death. The story explores (briefly) the lengths to which some people will go to keep a star player in the game.

In “Still Life,” two Santa Fe policemen investigate the killing of local art dealer Larry Olafson, bludgeoned with a piece of artwork from his gallery. It’s one of those cases with no shortage of suspects, because not many people liked Olafson, including his kids and ex-wife. One of the investigating cops, Darrell Two Moons, also had a recent run-in with the art dealer. Olafson, a vocal advocate of the less popular side in a local political debate, had a history of selling artwork of dubious provenance when he owned galleries in New York.

The interplay between McCain and Benton, and Benton’s situation as a single mother, add extra depth to an otherwise linear, mundane story. The authors succeed better with Two Moons and his partner Steve Katz (both of whom cameo in the recent Jonathan Kellerman novel, Twisted, perhaps confirming the identity of their creator). After the death of his father, nee Edward Montez, Darrell Two Moons began exploring what it means to be a Native American, adopting the last name his father created for himself late in life. Katz is in Sante Fe because his wife coerced him into moving from New York only to divorce him three months later. Her name turns up in Olafson’s address book, which means Katz has to consider her a suspect.

Both stories are interesting, but they feel like novel outlines rather than novellas. The plots, settings and characters, especially those of the investigating officers, could have carried full-length books, and there’s a feeling that brevity didn’t serve them well. Perhaps the Kellermans were testing the waters to see what working on a bigger-scale project together might be like. A cynical reviewer, however, might speculate that the book is a publishing gimmick to introduce the two authors’ respective audiences to each other.

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