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by Jonathan Kellerman
Random House Audio, 2004
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 4th 2004

Therapy

As someone who is fascinated by clinical psychology and who also loves a good murder mystery, you might have thought that I would be a great fan of the novels of Jonathan Kellerman.  Kellerman's novels are distinctive in bringing in a psychologist's perspective to the work of police detectives and his best-known character, Alex Delaware, is himself a psychologist.  However, the truth is that in the past I have not been able to make it more than a few pages into a Kellerman detective novel.  It is hard to pin down exactly why his writing didn't grab me but it didn't.  Listening to the audio version of Therapy was much easier, although I still would not rate Kellerman as a great detective writer.  Listening to a book takes less determination than reading it, and even when your attention starts to waver, the words keep on coming anyway. 

Delaware is an anemic and uninspiring lead character, and in fact it is detective Milo Sturgis who keeps the plot alive.  At the start of the novel, Milo and Alex are eating dinner at an LA restaurant, and as Kellerman describes what they ate, you begin to wonder whether you will make it past the first tape.  But then we get a description of Milo, the large gay cop with acne scars and jowls with a winningly gruff attitude.  The murder of a young couple in a car parked in the driveway of an empty house on Mullholland Drive.  Both have shots to the head, and the girl has some kind of spear thrust right through her chest pinning her to the seat.  It looks as if the couple must have been making out when they were interrupted and murdered, since she is topless and he has his shirt undone and his fly open.  Soon Milo and Alex notify the boy's mother about his death, and she is devastated.  They learn that Gavin Quick was in a terrible car crash less than a year before, and that he suffered some brain damage as a result.  For much of the rest of the novel, Milo and Alex try to work out whether there is some connection between that accident and the murder.  Their job is made more difficult because the murdered girl carried no identification and they are unable to discover who she was. 

Eventually they make progress, as they look into the various therapists who Gavin Quick saw after his accident and learn more about his family.  Alex chauffeurs Milo around the city in their investigation, and through their conversations they start to formulate a theory.  Along the way, they meet a host of interesting and memorable characters, none of whom seem very trustworthy.  The therapists are very reluctant to say anything about their clients, citing client-therapist confidentiality.  But the detectives start to discover the truth and find the sordid details behind the facades of respectability as well as the sorry lives that so many people lead.  Briefly, the story takes on a more political turn, but soon gets back to its core of intrigue. 

The best detective novels give some insight into the workings of society and have you guessing whodunit at the same time.  Kellerman doesn't have a great ability to write conversation; it is a little plodding, especially in those between Alex and his new girlfriend Alison, who is also a psychologist.  It's always a relief when the story returns to Milo and the scurrilous suspects.  While Kellerman has nothing much to say about contemporary America, there's enough psychology and minor social commentary to make the book a little thought-provoking.  Ultimately, the book is pretty formulaic, but it makes good summer reading. 

 

© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.