Alex Delaware and his partner, Robin Castagna, are having a melancholy evening at one of their favorite places, the bar at the Fauborg Hotel in Beverly Hills. The hotel is slated to be demolished and this is the last night there will be service at the bar. Most of the furniture is gone, the lightbulbs have been removed from all but a few of the wall lights, and the only member of the staff on duty is the long-time bartender who knows just how his regular customers like their drinks.
Alex and Robin aren’t the only patrons that evening. There is a very glamorous woman sitting at a table nearby. She is dressed completely in white, including the scarf around her head. On her feet are backless silver shoes. She is smoking, using an ivory cigarette holder, channeling Audrey Hepburn in Robin’s opinion. When they leave, they notice that the burly man who had been outside is no longer there. They had decided that he was the bodyguard of the woman in white but she is still in the bar. The duo had supplied a few moments of interesting observation to distract Alex and Robin from the depressing reality that some things, like the bar, continue past their prime.
A few days later, Milo Sturgis, a lieutenant with the homicide division of the Los Angeles police, arrives, as he frequently does, just as the coffee is ready. Milo had been called out at 4:00 am when the body of a young woman was found in the mountains. There appeared to be two killers involved because two weapons were used. Both guns were aimed at her face. There is no identification. Milo shows Alex a picture of the victim. Alex knows that the clothing could only belong to the woman he and Robin had seen at the bar.
When the police realize that the man who was presumed to be a bodyguard has also disappeared, there seems no reason not to assume that the murder of the woman and the disappearance of the man are connected. The man is Steven Muhrman and his mother says she saw him with a woman who looked like the victim, a woman whose name was Mystery.
An anonymous tip is called into the police, pointing them in the direction of an on-line service in which “daddies” are matched up with “sweeties”. Mystery was matched with a billionaire daddy who pre-deceased her, removing one suspect in the murder of the young woman who still has no name.
Alex is also contacted by a former patient who had inhabited the shadow world until she gave birth to a son. Now the boy is six, and she is dying. She pulls Alex back into his real profession, child psychologist.
Are the Kellerman books formulaic? Absolutely. Does that detract from the stories? No, the formula serves the story. Alex always gets pulled into a case that has been handed over to Milo because of the impossibility of its successful resolution. Alex and Milo always solve the puzzle. No one seems to notice that in the real world, someone like Alex wouldn’t be participating in interviews in such a way that people assume he is also a detective. Kellerman has established that Alex made a sizeable fortune in real estate; it must have provided Alex with a very soft nest because he seems not to have to charge people for the work he does.
A child psychologist in his pre-mystery writing days, Kellerman knows dysfunctional families and he peoples his books with characters whose level of dysfunction would be crippling in the real world. MYSTERY is Kellerman’s twenty-sixth Alex Delaware mystery. I have read all of them, some more than once. They are books that I read from cover to cover in one session. Kellerman writes what many people want to read. Any descriptions of psychopathy or violence are in service to the story. He doesn’t dwell on the dark side; he just lets readers peek into lives they wouldn’t want from a safe distance.