Friday, February 19, 2010

"Evidence" by Jonathan Kellerman

Psychologist Alex Delaware and detective Milo Sturgis arrive at a crime scene in which two dead people are entwined in a lover's embrace. They are quickly able to ID the male, but the identity of the female remains unknown. The male - Desmond Backer - was recently employed at a now-defunct architectural firm based on being environmentally friendly. Most of the females there had a relationship with Backer at some point or another, except for one of the partners, Helga Gemein. She's a rich Swiss who believes that humanity is a blight on the environment, and therefore didn't like anybody too much. Of course, the other partners in the firm aren't too happy with Helga either.

Alex and Milo interview the females who dallied with Desmond but, obviously, there's a lot more going on than originally thought. The investigation manages to pull up links with the brother of a sultan from the Indonesian island of Sranil who appears impossible to track down - and may have been involved in a murder. There's Desmond's own murky past which seems to have involved some amateur eco-terrorism. And trying to identify the female gets them involved with the FBI, as she was one of their informants. I'll leave it there, as to reveal much more would defeat the purpose of reading the book.

Jonathan Kellerman on auto-pilot is usually better than most of the stuff out there and this is no exception. The whole thing seems almost formulaic, yet you'd be hard-pressed to find another crime novel on the shelf with as many twists and turns as this one. Some little factoid dropped early on gains significance later. A minor character you wouldn't think twice about turns out to be much more involved than you would have guessed. It's the work of a writer who knows what they're doing - and doing it well. Fans of Kellerman will know what to expect, and new readers will undoubtedly be thrilled at discovering of the genre's best.

What I've yet to figure out is why Alex Delaware is even around? He doesn't get paid for tagging along with Milo everywhere, yet he's allowed to sit in on interviews, visit crime scenes and generally participate in all sorts of police matters that no civilian would ever be allowed to join in on. Yet he doesn't really contribute much other than to speculate with Milo about theories as to whodunit and whatnot. That's the other big problem with Kellerman's novels of late - Alex and Milo bounce around all sorts of outlandish scenarios and hey presto! They're right! It lacks credibility, and seems a cheap way to move the story onto the next point. The other minor quibble is the one-word titles he's been giving his novels - "Rage", "Obsession", "Compulsion", "Bones" etc and now "Evidence". I'm not sure why the title "Evidence" is more appropriate here than any one of his other books; it seems the title choices are just as generic as the plot structures. But at the end of the day, Kellerman is still one of the few authors you can count on to deliver an unpredictable and enjoyable crime mystery - every time.

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