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Onyx reviews: Victims by Jonathan Kellerman

The main conceit of Jonathan Kellerman's latest novel to feature Alex Delaware is the horrific nature of the crimes. Readers are set up to expect this from the very first page. When a writer raises this level of expectation, he should have something to deliver, and Kellerman doesn't, in this case. The crimes are, indeed, violent and depraved, but they aren't beyond the realm of what is depicted in many serial killer novels (including Kellerman's) or police procedural TV shows before. Certainly not something that would make seasoned veterans like Milo Sturgis and the medical examiner quake in their shoes or disturb Alex, who has seen terrible things being done in the past.

That aside, the secondary angle of the book is what makes the case so compelling: the apparent disconnect among the victims. The first victim is a nasty piece of work, a shrew that no one is surprised ended up murdered. The second victim is the polar opposite, the ultimate Mr. Nice Guy. Then back to another woman with a sharp tongue. The victimology gets more random after that. The fact that the killer is stalking his victims for days in advance means he's probably not choosing them at random. A question mark appears at each of the scenes—is it a taunt or a statement of purpose?

Tying all this together makes the novel work as well as it does. The case actually turns out to be fascinating and, for once, Robin is a tad more than window dressing: she provides one of the crucial observations that cracks the case wide open. The rest of the time, however, she busies herself in her workshop and generally makes herself conveniently busy so Alex can be available to Milo. Sometimes it's hard to accept how ready Alex always is to go on another expedition with his cop friend in what is basically an unpaid position. But that's the world Kellerman has created, so readers accept that unusual aspect.

The resolution of the case is mostly satisfying, except for the fact that the murderer remains off-stage for most of the book, seen only in passing by a variety of witnesses of varying reliability—including Alex. Kellerman wisely avoids the frequently seen trope of having the killer target Alex or Milo or Robin, but that means he is mostly a blank slate until confronted at the climax. When finally encountered, it's hard to decide if he's a monster or a different kind of victim—a victim of genetics or upbringing or circumstances.

Victims is a decent entry in a long-running series. There are the obligatory run-ins between Milo and his superiors. Kellerman crosses over with some of his other series characters to give the story a little extra life. The book doesn't break much new ground, though it does provide several previously unknown glimpses into Alex's past.

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