The Best of March’s Reading

March photoWe all know March isn’t really spring but in the north of England we were surprised and dismayed by the poor weather this month. We got early crocus flowers, then drifting snow and we’re heading into April with cold temperatures.

I’ve been luckier with my reading, however. Lots of books by old favourites were published this month including offerings from Fred Vargas, Jonathan Kellerman and Shona (now S G) MacLean. I don’t think there was a dud amongst them but my hands-down favourite was by Leif G W Persson. Linda, As in the Linda Murder was unusual and funny and must have been a guilty joy to translate from its original Swedish.

The eight books I read for crimepieces were:

1. Linda, As in the Linda Murder by Leif G W Persson

2. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas

3. The Locked Room by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

4. Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

5. The Healer by Antti Tuomainen

6. The Devil’s Recruit by S G MacLean

7. The Andalucian Friend by Alexander Soderberg

8. Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson

I also reviewed Johan Theorin’s Asylum for Eurocrime.  Do head over there and have a look what I thought of it.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise is putting together a list of reviewers’ favourite books for March.

Jonathan Kellerman – Guilt

GuiltI have a partiality for series in my crime fiction reading. I’ve heard that a publishing trend is moving towards more standalone novels, and while I can see some advantages in them, what I want to read above all is a new book in a series that I love. I don’t read in a methodical way; the only series that I’ve deliberately read in order are the Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö Martin Beck books. The downside of series, of course, is that they can go off the boil. I don’t intend to list them here, but I can name a fair few that have started well and then when you reach, say book 12, the quality dips. At that point, with so much else out there, I usually stop reading them.

However, there are some writers who  manage to keep the impetus going, the topic of a recent post at the crime fiction blog Reactions to Reading. My nomination for a series that is a ‘must read’ are the Alex Delaware/Milo Sturgis novels by Jonathan Kellerman, the latest of which, Guilt, was published in the UK at the beginning of March.

A pregnant woman unearths the body of a baby in the back garden of a house she is buying and the evidence points towards a tragedy that occurred sixty years earlier.  Nearby, a recent set of baby’s bones are found in a park and a woman working as a nanny is found shot dead. The cases seem miles apart but in wealthy LA, the highest echelons of society are prepared to pay, obfuscate or murder to conceal their actions.

The principal attraction of Kellerman’s books is the relationship between Milo and Alex. Milo is a gay LAPD detective whose outsider status allows him a free hand with investigations. Alex Delaware, is a consulting psychologist who assists with cases and often helps solve them. Their close relationship has been well drawn from the very first book,When the Bough Breaks and their affectionate banter in the midst of violent crime is always good to read.

The plots of the books, although well constructed, are often difficult to distinguish from each other. Guilt, however, involving an historic and present day case was better than some and I enjoyed the insight into the lives of the super rich and famous. Early in the series, the books were far more psychology focused and although Kellerman has moved away from this, it would be nice sometimes to see Alex in his psychologist’s guise rather than zooming around LA to solve a case.

Overall, considering this is the 28th book, I thought it held up pretty well and will no doubt delight Kellerman’s legion of fans.

Thanks to the publisher Headline for my copy.

Review: Jonathan Kellerman – Victims

Jonathan Kellerman is an author whose books sell in droves around the world. I’ve been reading him for years, since the 1980s I think, and his early books in particular were excellent. As other popular authors have disappeared from my reading (Patricia Cornwall, Lee Child) I’ve kept going with Kellerman as I like the two central characters, psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD lieutenant Milo Sturgis. He’s a ‘comfort read’ and although the books are beginning to be indistinguishable from each other, they still provide the essentials of a good crime story.

There has always been a fair amount of gore in Kellerman’s books but this one in particular was particularly gruesome. Vita Berlin is a malicious and unpleasant woman whose eviscerated remains are found in her apartment. It is the start of a spate of killings where the level of violence shocks even hardened detectives from the LAPD and hints at a level of mental illness from the perpetrator.

A link is discovered with a former state psychiatric hospital where a specialised care unit was set up, a hospital within a hospital, to house the most disturbed patients away from others. It emerges that a patient with a grudge against medical staff is picking off victims to atone for past mistreatment.

The strength of Kellerman’s previous books was his knowledge of psychology, particularly when it relates to disturbed children.  He brings his experiences of working as a clinical psychologist back into this book and the sections where he talks about mental illness amongst young people and inappropriate mistreatments that were administered are well written. The characters slot into their normal roles although this book is more a police procedural than others, as the private lives of the two central characters are kept to a minimum.

Given that this is his 27th book Kellerman has, I think, attempted to return to the roots of his early books with the focus on the psychological. But I found the extremity of the violence unpleasant because it was so excessive. There is a convincing explanation for it and the wounds, I suppose, are not dissimilar to those inflicted by Jack the Ripper in nineteenth century London. I think I found it distasteful because although the shock of the discoveries on the characters is made clear, the plot would have worked equally well without such extreme violence.

The book has also been reviewed at Murder by Type.