Book Review – ‘Deception – An Alex Delaware Novel’ by Jonathan Kellerman
Her name is Elise Freeman, and her chilling cry for help — to whoever may be listening — comes too late to save her. On a DVD found near her lifeless body, the emotionally and physically battered woman chronicles a year-and-a-half-long ordeal of monstrous abuse at the hands of three sadistic tormentors. But even more shocking than the lurid details is the revelation that the offenders, like their victim, are teachers at one of L.A.’s most prestigious prep schools. With Elise now dead by uncertain means, homicide detective Milo Sturgis is assigned to probe the hallowed halls of Windsor Prep Academy. And if ever he could use Dr. Alex Delaware’s psychological prowess, it’s now.
From the get-go, this case promises to be an uphill climb for truth and a down and dirty fight for justice. Allegations of rape, assault, and possibly murder at this esteemed institution renowned for molding Ivy Leaguers make for a social and political time bomb — especially given that one of the students has connections high up in City Hall. As the scandal-conscious elite of L.A. close ranks around Windsor Prep, Alex and Milo must penetrate the citadel of wealth and scholarship to expose the hidden anguish, dirty secrets, and deadly sins festering among society’s manor-born. But power and position are not easily surrendered, for that’s when the best and the brightest turn brutal and ugly. Searching for predators among the privileged, Alex and Milo may well be walking into a highly polished death trap.
As Jonathan Kellerman novels go, this one should still satisfy longtime fans, but I found the whole thing pretty lightweight (and kinda pointless). Psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis are called in to “investigate” the death of a tutor at the exclusive Windsor Preparatory Academy in Brentwood at the request of Deputy Chief Weinberg. For personal (and selfish) reasons, Weinberg wants the investigation to attract as little publicity as possible. Delaware and Sturgis are hobbled at every turn (but “helped” at the penultimate hour by a surprise ally) as they delve into the victim’s (Elise Freeman) hidden life & secrets. They discover a multitude of suspects (boyfriend, students, teachers) with Ms Freeman turning out to be not quite the innocent victim as initially thought. Nothing is what it seems at first – hence the title of the book ‘Deception’.
After finishing it, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed (especially at the ending). Mr Kellerman continues his new style of more a ‘police procedural’ than ‘psychology’-oriented thriller/mystery. Not too happy about that (as I’m a huge fan of the original novels), but Delaware and Sturgis do still form a pretty interesting dynamic duo, and it’s fun to hitch a ride as these two try to figure out who-did-what-when-how. Major bummer for me though (not to spoil anything) – I kind of like knowing a little something about the eventual murderers – it’s no fun being totally blindsided and pretty much going – who? – at the big reveal. There’s a big difference between going – oh, wow, didn’t suspect him! – to – who the hell was that?
Still, it’s an engaging yarn, written in such a way that it’s a smooth (but not boring) read, tight while not being too demanding on your mental muscles to follow the action. I’d read a Kellerman novel any day over say, an overblown Dan Brown or Douglas Preston. It’s the perfect book to while away an afternoon or two, especially if you’re already familiar with Mr Kellerman’s style and his main characters Alex and Milo. A bonus in this book (for me) is that we get a deeper understanding of Chief Weinberg. He was a new character that Mr Kellerman introduced around 2-3 books back who made Milo’s life easier, and I really like him (because of that), even if he was a douche in this one. Chief Weinberg’s son is a keeper though, and I hope that Mr Kellerman brings the son back in future novels in the series.
And addendum – I’m still waiting for an XXX : A Milo Sturgis Novel from Mr Kellerman. I mean he’s heading there anyway with Alex Delaware seeming to be just along for the ride in the latest novels, and Milo being the ‘main man’. Just own it already – let Milo be the one narrating so I’d finally see into his mind as he navigates being an out gay detective in the LAPD, and meet the hunky ER doctor boyfriend! as a bonus.