I’m a big fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s novels, so when I saw his new one, Victims, on the shelves of a bookshop in Bangkok last week, I purchased it immediately. Back in the States, this novel is only available as a hardcover edition, but luckily here in Bangkok we often get cheaper jumbo-sized “International” paperback editions of recently published novels, and that was the case with the Kellerman book.
Victims is the latest installment in Kellerman’s popular mystery series featuring crime-fighting psychologist Alex Delaware and his Police Lieutenant mentor Milo Sturgis. The blurb on the front cover of the book announces: Alex Delaware is The Crime Reader. On the back cover, you are reminded again: Alex Delaware … is The Crime Reader. Further down the page, you are told about The Crime Reader’s case, and then about The Crime Reader’s Files. Urrrgghh!!! Too much Crime Reader nonsense already! This is the second consecutive novel that I’ve noticed all this Crime Reader crap littering the cover, so naturally I’m curious: just what the hell is The Crime Reader? My hunch is that it might be the title of a new CSI-inspired TV series, or perhaps some marketing wanker’s idea of branding. But there is no evidence of a tie-in with a movie or any TV series, and an online check revealed no additional information about what The Crime Reader might be all about. Weird.
Despite all the The Crime Reader ridiculousness, Victims is another solid addition to Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series. Yeah, he’s got a formula down pat, but it’s an irresistible one. Kellerman’s ability to punch out sparse, sharp dialogue is among the best in modern crime fiction. No wasted words, he just gets to the point. Like Kellerman himself, the Alex Delaware character is a trained psychologist, and is frequently asked to consult the LAPD on particularly troubling murder investigations. Thus, Alex and Milo are always getting involved in some sort of disturbing, bloody mayhem. The psychological insights and speculation about the murders that pepper the pages help make Kellerman’s books all the more intriguing, and the investigative aspect of interviewing witnesses and suspects also keeps the reader involved. Kellerman is a gifted storyteller, and his vivid descriptions of people and places help the reader better visualize the scene. But sometimes those descriptions are so copious and detailed that I find them overwhelming, especially when he gets going about the interior of a room. Perhaps he’s a frustrated interior decorator! Nevertheless, I enjoyed the new book thoroughly, finishing it in less than 48 hours after starting it. Another 300-plus pages of crime fiction bliss.
For the past week, when not dodging raindrops and worrying about the threat of flooded streets, I’ve been immersed in plenty of murder and mayhem. More specifically, I’ve flown through new novels by two of my favorite crime fiction masters; Lee Child and George Pelecanos. Aside from being categorized as mystery writers (please don’t use that detestable term “thriller”), the two writers are quite different in style. Pelecanos strays more into literary territory and tends to moralize a lot more, but both writers are not shy about using copious amounts of blood and violence in their plots.
The new Child novel, The Affair, once again features the cerebral — and very lethal — Jack Reacher character. For this novel, however, Child takes the reader back to 1997, a time when Reacher was still a major in the US Army and had yet to start roaming the highways and byways of America, rescuing damsels in distress and dishing out his brand of righteous retribution. As usual, Reacher becomes involved with a beautiful woman, kicks the asses of — or kills — various bad guys (often with his bare hands!), and delights the reader with his variety of eccentric habits (why use a watch when your “inner clock” always knows what time it is; why wash a shirt when you can throw it away and buy a new one instead; who needs a bag or suitcase when all you carry is a toothbrush!). I’ve read every Lee Child book thus far — every one of them a thoroughly gripping Jack Reacher adventure — and I’m still satisfied enough to eagerly await the next one. This one doesn’t disappoint.
The new Pelecanos book, The Cut, features an entirely new protagonist (a young man who served in Iraq and now “recovers things” for people), but once again is set within the familiar boundaries of the Washington, D.C. area. As in past novels, Pelecanos explores racial relations and social issues with astute insight and compassion. Many reviewers note that Pelecanos is one of the few writers of crime fiction who is able to elevate his prose to true literature, and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. In addition to Pelecanos’ deft writing skill, there are frequent moments of offbeat brilliance. One of characters, a high school teacher, has his students read novels by Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) for a class assignment. References to various songs, albums (REM’s Life’s Rich Pagaent, Decoration Day by Drive-By Truckers), and musicians (Augustus Pablo, Black Uhuru, Ennio Morricone) pop up repeatedly and induce knowing smiles every time. The only annoying habit that Pelecanos continuously inflicts on the reader is his reciting the brand name of every stitch of clothing that each character is wearing, as well as the details of every vehicle they are driving and the guns they are using. I realize that many people believe such details make the plot more realistic, but Pelecanos really goes overboard with his product parade. You almost have to wonder if he’s getting paid to endorse these brands. Enough already! Another than those blips, this is another excellent Pelecanos novel, populated by lovingly flawed and believable characters.
In the steamy world of mystery novelists James McClure was never very among the most well known, and his output was modest by most publishing standards, but his series of Kramer & Zondi novels remain beloved by many readers around the world.
I just finished reading The Artful Egg, one of the excellent books in McClure’s unique Kramer & Zondi series. These novels revolve around the exploits of two irreverent South African police detectives, one black and one white. I found a paperback copy of this book recently during my trip to Myanmar, in Nyaungshwe of all crazy places, at Htein Linn’s Golden Bowl Bookshop. What a find!
The Song Dog, is cited by many reviewers as McClure’s best book in the series, but The Artful Egg, written in 1984, is also a delight. Two different murders, some playful dialogue, absurd scenarios, clever plotting, and a confused and sexually frustrated Indian postman who likens himself to Sherlock Holmes, help to give the book plenty of twists and local color. A thoroughly enjoyable read.
One aspect of McClure’s novels that make them particularly noteworthy is that they are set in 1970s and 1980s South Africa, during the apartheid era. Having a black (zulu) and a white police detective to team up and solve crimes together adds a compelling social and political dynamic to the story.
Sadly, McClure passed away in 2006 at the age of 66, so we won’t be treated to any more Kramer and Zondi tales. But mystery fans would be doing themselves a favor by discovering his books. There are eight titles in the Kramer and Zondi series. He also wrote three other novels and three works of non-fiction, in addition to being a full-time journalist for various newspapers in the UK for many years.