Good Read, But A Little Distracting
Billy Straight by Jonathan KellermanJonathan Kellerman is a wonderful suspense author. He has a knack for doubling back, laying out his red herrings almost sequentially, and allowing the reader to play along. Many authors manage that, but Kellerman avoids focusing the entire plot on a single obscure clue. Likewise, he doesn't try to push hard for an O. Henry slam-dunk, whiz bang shocker. Still, after reading much of his catalog, I think it is safe to say that Kellerman will frequently surprise you.
That said, Billy Straight is set in Los Angeles and follows the gruesome stabbing death of a celebrity's ex-wife. I'm not quite sure if it was cathartic for Kellerman to write this book in the wake of O.J. Simpson's exploits, but the book is peppered with references made by various characters to O.J. and all the side players who dominated the nation's media coverage for so long. On its blurb in the back, the Los Angeles Times states that no one evokes Los Angeles like Kellerman does. I hope that is not true in this sense because it is time to put O.J. to bed -- or at least bury him in a sand trap somewhere.
The problem for me in reading this book - which is true Kellerman in terms of pacing, plotting and characterizations - was my growing expectation that Kellerman's main character, Dr. Alex Delaware, would show up as a character. This was not billed as a Delaware novel, but I knew that Kellerman could not resist using his money character, a crime-solving child psychiatrist, in a murder mystery with a traumatized young runaway as a witness. Early on, there is a throwaway line to Milo Sturgis, Delaware's cop sidekick, so I knew Alex was lurking somewhere nearby.
And that was distracting as hell.
Spoiler ahead - stop reading now if you want.
Delaware does show up at the end of the book to take care of Billy. He is seen from Billy's view only, and I am not sure why Kellerman dragged him out to this plot. The presence of Delaware's character didn't really lend anything. Having a child psychiatrist named, anything else, would have had the same effect. There may have even been a stronger effect because Kellerman fans were waiting for Delaware to do something spectacular. I was reminded of watching Ringo play drums in old Beatles videos. He is happy sure enough, and sort of keeping time, but he is not doing anything special. That is what happened to Delaware in this book. And for Delaware fans, that is not only distracting, but ultimately disappointing.
Back to non-spoilers
All of that said, I think the LA Times got it wrong. No one writing today evokes a child's voice as well as Kellerman. In that way, he's very reminiscent of early Stephen King. Instead of vampires, ghouls and other supernatural nasties, however, Kellerman's kids are plagued by folks with real mental illness. That makes them all the more horrifying.
If you have not read Kellerman yet, start here so you do not get distracted by the Alex Delaware connection. After that, move on to The Devil's Waltz. Yes, I know that is out of sequence, but it is Delaware's at his best-rounded Everyman in my opinion. From there, pick and skip through the others. Kellerman is a great read. Had this book come out under anyone else's name and without the expectations it raised with Kellerman's, I would give it 5 stars. Instead, here's 4 for keeping me distracted throughout the entire story.