Onyx reviews: Billy
Straight by Jonathan Kellerman
Alex Delaware has carried the load of being the hero in twelve of Jonathan
Kellerman's previous thirteen novels and with Billy Straight he is taking
a much-needed vacation. He does peek in for a moment near the end to see how
everything is going in his absence. Everything is going just fine.
Billy Straight is the story of a twelve-year-old homeless boy who is
witness to a brutal murder late at night in a quiet L.A. park, one of his many
safe havens. Petra Conner is the LAPD homicide detective assigned to the case,
which is hampered by public relations concerns when it is discovered that the
victim is the ex-wife of Cart Ramsey, the star of a popular television vigilante
detective drama. Conner is forced to investigate gently. The case has
"media frenzy" written all over it and Petra is strongly advised to
walk tenderly to keep the celebrities associated with the case from becoming
incensed. The specter of O.J. Simpson still looms large over Los Angeles.
The novel is told from two points of view: The young Billy speaks in first
person, and the reader gets an up-close view of how this wiser-than-average
youth becomes one of the wary street children roaming Los Angeles. His scenes
are interleaved with the third-person perspective of Conner as she begins to
pull the threads of the crime together. Kellerman can't resist the temptation to
invest Billy with good manners and high intellect, but the boy is a charmer and
the reader is with him through thick and thin. He is a richly drawn, sympathetic
character. The scenes of his escape from an abusive home situation to the
marginally better life on the streets is harrowing and probably all too common.
Billy has more to worry about than he realizes, however. The crime which he has
seen is high-profile and both his testimony and his silence are worth large sums
As a whodunit, the novel succeeds in switching the reader's suspicion among
the cast of suspects. Just when it seems the clues point all in one direction,
they suddenly point convincingly in another. Or do they? The novel speeds toward
its climax, and the killer enters the stage as another narrator. His anonymous
scenes simultaneously reveal and obscure his identity. The body count rises as
Billy becomes the focus of an intensive man-hunt. He is pursued by the police,
the murderer and various greed-driven shadows from his past, all after him for
different reasons. Once he becomes aware that his presence at the scene is
public knowledge and his picture has been splashed all across the city, he knows
that his life is at even greater risk now than ever before and he is quickly
running out of safe places.
Petra Conner and Billy Straight's paths converge toward the end of the novel.
Conner realizes that in order to solve this case, she needs to find Billy
Straight and to save Billy's life, she needs to solve the murder. Conner is a
complex character, with a life filled with all of the ordinary problems of a
divorced single woman trying to balance career and personal life. She is an
appealing heroine and a worthy care-taker of Alex Delaware's territory.
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