Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Sometimes, I have to put an author on probation.  I only have so much time, and there are too many books I want to read to spend my time on authors who seem to be on autopilot.  I'll give an author I've enjoyed a few books to retain my attention, but at some point, I'll stop reading and donate my backlist to the Book Corner.

Jonathan Kellerman is now on probation.  I first read When the Bough Breaks during a Christmas break from law school and just couldn't put it down - I may have read it in a single sitting.  I've been a faithful reader ever since, and like most long running series some of the books have been better than others.  Time Bomb left a bad taste in my mouth, but Devil's Waltz was fascinating.  I was losing interest with Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis when The Murder Book altered the formula by using Milo's POV as well as Alex's and making his partner Rick more than just a passing mention.  Unfortunately, I haven't enjoyed its sequels and have come to the conclusion that I'm now reading Kellerman's books out of habit.  

Compulsion starts with a young woman drunkenly staggering out of a club.  Her car runs out of gas and she thinks she's in luck when an aristocratic woman in a Bently gives her a lift.  The next day, the Bently's owner calls the police, claiming that it had been stolen and left on a nearby street.  Milo and his subordinate investigate and find blood on the driver's seat but it's not a priority until an elderly woman is murdered by a man driving a BMW stolen from and returned to a luxury car rental service.  Milo follows a few ultimately false leads, using Alex as a psychological sounding board, and at home Alex's luthier girlfriend is making custom instruments for a tone-deaf dot-com millionaire.  

Compulsion comes across as an average-quality mystery until about the last 80 pages when it takes a turn for the bitter.  Kellerman is a clinical psychologist as well as a novelist, so I can understand why he might see the worst in people.  However, he seems to have fallen into the habit of writing himself into a corner and then 'solving' the mystery by showing that one (or more) of the characters is a creepy psychopath.  It's the near-cheating more than the creepiness that bothers me.  The solution may work if you trace all the way back to page one and choose the less likely outcome for every potentially ambiguous piece of data, but it feels like Kellerman is playing a trick on us.  I might be a little more willing to go along with the game, but the solution usually involves such a repulsive character, I'm less willing to cut Kellerman any slack.  I'm not asking for a kittens and flowers happy ending, but unless Milo and Alex start encountering murders that can be solved without cheating, they're leaving my library to make room for my ever-expanding collection of historical mysteries.

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