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Onyx reviews: The Keeper by John Lescroart

Reviewed by Bev Vincent, 03/16/2014

If the Scott Peterson case taught the world anything, it's that when a wife goes missing, especially from a troubled marriage, the husband is the primary suspect and, quite often, the culprit. So when Hal Chase's wife vanishes one night, he knows what the police are going to think. His alibi is soft—he was picking up his brother from the airport, but the flight was delayed so he hung out at a bar whose name he can't remember. Drops of blood are found in the kitchen and their children are asleep in their beds. No one, not even Chase, can believe Katie would abandon her children, no matter how rough their marriage was.

Chase is in law enforcement—he's a guard at the San Francisco county jail—so he knows how these things work. He's familiar with lawyer Dismas Hardy, Lescroart's series protagonist, because his wife was getting counseling from Hardy's wife. He decides to get ahead of the ball and hire Hardy to defend him. It's only a matter of time, he believes, and rightly so, before he's arrested, despite the absence of a body or any real evidence that Katie is dead. Of course, his pro-activity makes him look even more suspicious to the cops.

Chase had been romantically involved with a wealthy and stunningly beautiful woman. He recently broke off the relationship—or so they claim—to work things out with his wife, and the fact that he willingly reveals the affair to his lawyer and the cops works in his favor. Unless it's part of a clever ploy to mislead them. He can't win for losing. Unless Hardy can come up with a credible alternate theory of the crime that leads to the charges being dropped, Chase will likely spend a year or two in jail awaiting trial and, if it comes to trial, he'll almost certainly be convicted of something.

Hardy enlists the help of recently retired detective Abe Glitsky, who is having a hard time coming to terms with the amount of free time he suddenly has on his hands. The SFPD is so big that many officers haven't gotten the memo about Abe's retirement, so he's able to move among his former colleagues as if he's still on the job, despite the fact that he's trying to gather evidence to break down their case against Chase. 

The investigation has a lot to do with husbands and wives. For a while there's a certain amount of tension between Dismas and his wife, because she's privy to information about the supposed victim that she isn't allowed to share because it is privileged. Abe's wife isn't happy that he's getting involved in homicide cases again, albeit from the opposite side of the courtroom from his usual position. And then there's the fraught relationship between Chase and his wife. Katie gave up a very successful career to raise their children and they've recently been having trouble making ends meet on his jailer's salary. Her devotion to the children excluded almost everyone and everything else from their lives, including members of his family. Even Chase can't do anything right pertaining to the kids. And once Hardy's wife becomes free to tell the things she knows about the missing woman, the information does not make Chase's situation look better.

Complicating matters is the fact that the jail where Chase works has seen a number of worrisome incidents in recent years, including a couple of suspicious deaths and drug overdoses. Hardy and Glitsky decide that the only way to approach the case is to work under the assumption that Chase is innocent, as he maintains. If that's true, then who else would have reason to kill Katie Chase? Could the corruption at the jail somehow be related? Frannie Hardy's revelations make this a real possibility. What are the implications for Chase, then, who is now behind bars in that very jail, under the watchful and all-too-powerful eye of his former colleagues?

This reviewer, at least, guessed who was responsible for Katie Chase's demise very early in the book. There are red herrings aplenty, but nothing that shifted that initial suspicion. That alone might not have been enough to spoil the enjoyment of this book, but when Glitsky, in a moment of uncharacteristic pique, reveals crucial information to the perpetrator, leading to some terrible consequences, it made the whole thing feel contrived. So, too, does the fact the Glitsky takes some shortcuts in the investigation that conveniently keep him from discovering a critical piece of information. The only reason for Lescroart to push his character to do things so out of character was for the sake of the plot, which lent a false note to the proceedings. This is compounded by a vague detail in the overall scenario. How did the killer get Katie Chase to the location where she was killed? This seems like a crucial part of the investigation, a question that needs to be answered, but it never is. Lescroart settles for "somehow," which was a letdown.

Though The Keeper is billed as a Dismas Hardy novel, it is really more of an Glitsky book. Hardy does appear throughout, but for the most part he is in the background. Glitsky is responsible for most of the book's forward momentum, for better or worse.

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