Between 1985 and 2010, Jonathan Kellerman has written twenty-five books built around child psychologist, Alex Delaware, and his friend, Los Angeles police detective, Milo Sturgis. I have read and enjoyed them all.
They are unabashedly formulaic. Alex is called by a former patient, now an adult, who needs his help or Milo has a case that requires Alex’s skills and insights. These are thrillers and it is usually Alex who is in danger near the end of the book. The abuse or terror visited on the children is done before the book opens.
Kellerman has also written two vastly different, excellent stand-alones. The first, THE BUTCHER’S THEATER, was published in 1988. At a time when serial-killers were thought of as a uniquely American problem, the body of a young Arab girl is found in the hills outside Jerusalem. She is mutilated after death then washed and wrapped. As more bodies are discovered, the city begins to panic. Chief Inspector Daniel Sharavi is in charge of the investigation and it is a political bombshell. Kellerman gives an intersting summary of the political dynamics of the divided city. There is no attempt to hide the tension between Arabs and Jews, especially in a situation when the crimes against one group are being investigated by the authorities of the other. Some people who reviewed the book found it biased. Kellerman is Jewish as is the protagonist of the story. He makes no attempt to hide his sympathies. That doesn’t distract from the story. Sharavi is an interesting and sympathetic character.
THE BUTCHER’S THEATER is not the best of Kellerman’s books but, like all his books, it is engrossing.
THE CONSPIRACY CLUB is completely different from the usual book written by Kellerman. It is not a police procedural. The central character is a psychologist but he is a victim in a sense. This is a psychological thriller; the terrible deeds are done before the story begins.
Jeremy Carrier is a psychologist at City Central Hospital, location not revealed. Jeremy was in a committed relationship with a nurse, Jocelyn Banks, when she is murdered. Jeremy is, of course, a suspect. When more bodies are found, the police put more pressure on him, convinced he is the killer.
As this is happening, Jeremy is approached by Dr. Arthur Chess, a retired pathologist who is such an important part of the hospital’s history that he is allowed to maintain an office there. He invites Jeremy to a dinner at a very exclusive restaurant. The other guests are six significantly older men and women who were stars in their respective fields. Then Dr. Chess disappears and Jeremy begins to receive post cards from various parts of the world, all with the same message: “Traveling and learning”. At the same time, Jeremy begins getting envelopes through intra-office mail with articles about strange medical practices or advertisements for strange equipment. Continuing to meet with Arthur’s friends, Jeremy gradually realizes the meaning of the Conspiracy Club.
Many people who reviewed this book were deeply disappointed in it. It may be that by the time it was published in 2003, loyal readers weren’t interested in any book that didn’t include Alex Delaware. I enjoyed it; the characters were intriguing enough that the book deserves to be judged on its own merits.