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Onyx reviews: Killer by Jonathan
Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 02/05/2014
Jonathan Kellerman takes series character Alex Delaware back to his roots
by focusing in large part on his private practice, something that is often
neglected. Killer's opening section deals with Alex agreeing to take on
consulting work involving child custody cases. The work is rewarding, his commitment to an
individual case is not onerous and the compensation more than adequate.
getting between two people who want the same thing can bring about unexpected
risks. The book's prolog shows Alex's life being threatened—albeit subtly—by
a woman who has just lost in her attempt to gain custody of her sister's infant
daughter, Rambla (so named for the street where she was conceived, father
unknown). Constance Sykes is affluent and her sister, Cherie, is not. That, in
her mind, is sufficient justification to take the child. Her sister is flighty,
a latter-day flower child who, at one point, left Rambla in Connie's care for
nearly three months while she traveled with a band. Alex's brief and
to-the-point evaluation of the situation carried great influence with the judge,
who ruled in the mother's favor. Cherie Sykes might not have the same advantages
as her older sister, but she was obviously a good mother to Rambla.
Connie Sykes issues her veiled threat, Milo tells Alex that the woman has
attempted to take out a contract on his life. By now, readers will think they
know who the book's title refers to—but they will be wrong. After Connie
is murdered and her shy and kindly sister Cherie disappears with Rambla, Milo is
sure he knows who's responsible. Other murders and attempted murders follow, all
involving people in Cherie's circle of friends.
Everyone Alex and Milo
talk to, including the members of the band Cherie hung out with, thinks she's
harmless. Literally wouldn't hurt a spider. Has she hoodwinked everyone,
including a trained and experienced psychologist? To his credit, Alex doesn't
descend into depression at having gotten things so obviously wrong. He's
concerned for the baby and what might happen to her if she's raised by a
psychotic killer who was able to pull the wool over his eyes, but he's not quick
to relinquish his original assessment, either, which causes some friction
between him and Milo, who doggedly follows the evidence.
is one of the better Delaware novels in a while. It treats the characters with
respect, never using them as pawns to advance the plot. When Alex learns that
Constance Sykes is a threat to the family, he tells his long-time companion
Robin about the situation and apologizes to her. Even when pursuing his own
investigation, he doesn't ditch Robin as he has done so often in the past. He
takes time out to keep her up to date, and delays meetings to have dinner with
her. By the same token, he doesn't follow Milo around constantly. He has a life
independent of his pro bono consulting work with the LAPD. He does take a few
risks in following his own line of investigation, but more often than not he
lets the system work, calling in reinforcements when he gets in over his head.
of the book's more interesting aspects is the introduction of a character from
Alex's past, Efren "Effo" Casagrande, who came to him as a contentious
youngster who refused to take his insulin injections to combat diabetes. Alex
flashes back to those early encounters, when he was able to connect with the boy
and show him the importance of paying attention to his health. His intervention
paid off, as Effo, who is now a mobster, returns the favor in an unexpected way.
The scenes between Effo and Alex—both in flashback and in the contemporary
action—are among the best in the novel.
The resolution will probably
come as a surprise. It doesn't exactly come out of left field—Kellerman
leaves clues that make sense in retrospect—but it's doubtful that readers
will guess who is really responsible for the killings. After twenty-nine books
featuring Alex Delaware, Kellerman proves that his long-running series still has
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