Another in a long line of Alex Delaware novels, in which the child psychologist offers his (usually crime-solving) insights as an occasionally-paid consultant to the LAPD, and in particular to his friend Detective Milo Sturgis. The sometimes humorous/sometimes poignant relationship between Kellerman’s lead characters Delaware and Sturgis is alone sufficient to keep most Kellerman fans coming back year after year and book after book, and Kellerman’s handling of dialogue with authenticity and often snappy wit is a big plus for me, but this time, the plot –despite a number of unexplained holes in it—proved a draw as well.
We are introduced right away to the handiwork of a monster, a disemboweled corpse with the intestines looped around the victim’s neck. We soon discover that the victim was an aggressively abrasive alcoholic loner and our sympathy level ratchets down a notch, only to shoot up when the next victim is discovered to be the quintessential nice guy. Adding to the horror, the second victim’s dumb but loveable Golden Retriever is missing and presumed killed as well. More victims start popping up, all apparently randomly chosen and yet evidently stalked and targeted by the killer. Detective Sturgis does a lot of plodding police footwork throughout the first half of the book that gets him nowhere except in trouble with his superiors for his lack of progress, while Dr. Delaware –with a little help from his love interest Robin–throws in a few professional zingers which keeps the crime-solving moving ahead.
Delaware was more of an enigma to me in this book, functioning less like a real flesh-and-blood character and rather more like a rather bland mouthpiece for solving the mystery. In fact, for me, it was the secondary characters that really made this book hum. Kellerman brilliantly introduces us to a large number of people who are portrayed in all their flawed humanity—the shell-shocked wife of one victim who clings to Sturgis for consolation, the enraged father of a dying child who wants to strike out at the world, the former clinic administrator who in his declining years cannot shed enough possessions to assuage his guilty conscience, the long-estranged son of a homeless victim, and so on. Kellerman is masterful at peopling his stories with the real thing, and not just black hats and white hats, and it’s one of the things I enjoy about his books.
The plot meanders a good deal, and it’s not until well into the book that our detective and his pal start to connect the killer to a psychiatric facility which was shut down and dismantled many years earlier, but which had a common thread with one or more of the victims. At this point, the pace accelerates, the killer’s identity coalesces and the melodramatic climax ensues. At the end, soulfull looks are exchanged between Sturgis and Delaware which left me scratching my head in confusion. Nonetheless, a page-turner with many good things to recommend it.
One aspect of the novel that bears noting is that I think Kellerman chose Victims to make a strongly personal statement about the insidious nature of today’s health insurance industry, and it comes through loud and clear. I couldn’t have agreed more.