Victims, Jonathan Kellerman, An Alex Delaware Novel

Jonathan Kellerman, where is the love?

3/4/12

While just as riveting as some of his others– the crime details that is — this one falls flat for the aspects that are not concerned with the crime(s). For those of us dedicated to the series, there are unanswered questions. Are Milo and Rick no longer together? Why was Rick so obviously absent? Just a passing reference to his name and “surgery” in general. Milo makes a sandwich from ingredients that would have not been present in their refrigerator if Rick had  been living with him. No mention of Milos’ being gay. No, it’s not important to the story, but it is to the series and to those of us who “know” him.

Re Robin & Alex… too light, though okay. I wonder how this reads for new readers. I don’t think there was mention of how Robin refurbishes band instruments (which I think is a really unique skill to give to a character).

And about the **victims** in the book. The beginning held me close, but I have to say that as Alex (more than Milo) got closer to discovering the connections, history and identities of everyone involved, the prose became boring. it was more like reading “the file” than being entertained by the story.

It is as if the story was so complex (it was) that it needed long passages of explanation — not because the reader is stupid — but because all the stuff Kellerman had in his head had not made it into the text.

The victims of the book (and there are plenty of them) eventually lose specificity. The first victim is drawn big and bold, with a supporting history and other ancillary (and ultimately connecting) co-characters — all of which make the reader like/love/hate her. The 2nd-4th victims begin to blur. There are pets thrown in for good emotional measure, and in the end there is some redemption for some victims and survivors. Not formulaic, but predictable. The horror involved in the commissions of the crimes is soon diluted by predictability.

I liked this one. I might recommend it if asked by a fan of the series. I would not recommend it to a person first taking on the Delaware books. Another reviewer here asked “who is Alex Delaware?” I have to agree that there is too little personality in all the characters to generate a real interest. Again, more like a procedural or a psych report, it was reportage more than tale-spinning.

I think JK came up later with and then added a co-conspirator. It didn’t feel natural or inevitable. I think the story would have been stronger if the bad guy had masterminded all of it alone — He  certainly had enough time and practice. By adding a sponsor/guardian to the equation, Grant is reduced to an accidental criminal (another victim). If JK is making a point here about the failure of “the system” to care for people when signs of insanity are first emerging, and if he is trying to advertise the existence and damage caused by incompetents in the medical and psych fields, I wish he would do it in nonfiction. For this, a crime story of major magnitude, let’s keep it real and gritty.

But I did like it, and I am glad I got it and I can’t wait for the next one because I am optimistic that JK will come back down to earth and write a thriller not a treatise.

An aside: It occurs to me when I read Kellerman and Grisham (lately) that beloved writers who have gained popularity and financial success seem to strut their stuff in their books. Naming designer labels and the prices of clothing and “possessions” is frequent. Trips taken by the characters (in this book through the Panama Canal) are not the vacations of the average book buyer. I get the feeling, though I have no proof of this, that the writers are flaunting the knowledge they have acquired by their own experiences. And there is nothing wrong with writing about things and travels that the average reader will not acquire. However, I think there is a problem with it when the majority characters in the book are also “average.” In the above example, a retired psych recounts his former riches, travels, cars and houses. I felt as if Kellerman invented that character to talk about what HE owns, what he does and what he values. I am not sure there is anything inherently wrong with that, but it’s sort of like a intrusion.

I have felt the same way about Grisham’s novels for years. That does not detract from a good story, nor does it enhance a poor one, but it is abrupt in the reading and sort of causes a displacement from the people in the book. Yes there are rich lawyers in Clanton and in L.A., but the people that we care about (in the stories) seldom get to experience life on that side of the tracks.

So, it’s a rhetorical complaint. There is nothing wrong with showing a contrast between characters’ lots in life, and that’s a good device to accentuate the “downtrodden” aspect of the victimized, I’m just saying that there is some sense of its being “added on,” like an extra-rich frosting to a creation that would stand quite well on its own basic ingredients. We KNOW the lawyers and doctors and psychs are wealthier than most of their clients. We KNOW  the old saw about police being terribly underpaid. I am questioning why the writers go so far to separate the high from the lower economic characters. It feels like the writer is separating himself from “those people,” regardless of
how benevolently he seems to treat them in the text. For the perpetrators of terrible things, as in Kellerman’s Victims there is the requisite story of the abandoned and befuddled pre-adolescent whose life went whacko and pushed him into insanity. That’s what we need to know about in detail. The other is filler.

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