A Cold Heart (Alex Delaware #17) - Jonathan Kellerman

In the past couple of months, I've been scarfing up Kellerman's Alex Delaware series like they were candy. I've imbibed them on audio, where they are narrated by the absolutely marvelous John Rubinstein.  I've decided to start reviewing them mainly because they're all beginning to blur together.  If there's such a thing as a "cosy psychological thriller," I'd say the Alex Delaware series fits the bill.  Sure, the psychpath of the week may be freaky, but unlike most of his peers, Alex Delaware has a collection of stable relationships and allies, and the endings also don't tend to involve bloodbaths or depressing catastrophes that rip the fabric of the protagonist's life apart. Plus, there's a dog. Unfortunately, Kellerman's talent is hidden within rather abysmal titles. I suppose they are intriguing enough, but for me, a major role of the title should be to identify the book after you've finished it.[1] Almost every single one I've encountered (e.g. "Compulsion", "Obsession", "Guilt", "Rage") is so vague and general that it could be applied to any bog-standard murder mystery out there. I'm going to start reviewing them, mainly so I can remember which ones I might want to reread. As far as titles go, A Cold Heart isn't the worst offender[2], but I sure as heck won't remember what it corresponds to in a month or so. 


Alex is still reeling from the most recent upheaval in his life.  His long-time partner, Robin, has left him. Again. Deciding that his life in crime is too much for her to handle (bk 15), she has taken up residence with a fellow artist and has brought Spike, their bad-tempered French bulldog, with her, leaving Alex alone in the echoing house they once shared. Alex has taken time off of his work as a police consultant, but when Milo calls him in on a new case, he's eager to start back up.  An inoffensive artist--a rising star--has been strangled on the night of her comeback show.  Alex starts to wonder if the case might be connected to the recent murder of a blues singer who also died on the night of his comeback.  Milo and Alex join forces with Detective Petra Connors and her new partner, and it isn't long before they realise that far too many rising stars have been prematurely shot down....

For my feeble memory: (HARDCORE ENDING SPOILER) the serial killer is a professor at a local school who may or may not have dragged in a young loner student.  The prof is a grown-up rich kid who sees himself as DaVinci but has failed to succeed in everything from dance to art to music and is semi-cannibalistically destroying minor starlets.  He still sees himself as a writer and has therefore left them alone.  The issue of whether the red-herring-kid was actually involved is left open.

(show spoiler)

A Cold Heart introduces some new characters as well as bringing back old favourites. Milo Sturgis, now a lieutenant in the LAPD, has as usual taken Alex on as his investigative sidekick.  I think I've fallen in love with Milo--he's just totally one of the best characters I've encountered lately. Big, tall, loud, and flamboyant, he may come off as the muscle guy, but he also has an abrasive wit and a keen intuition. He comes across as a very real, rounded, complex character to me; a lot of inner turmoil, a lot of flaws, and a very human approach to detectivework. He and Alex have a fantastic friendship.  My favourite moments with Milo are the times that he randomly wanders into Alex's home, raids the fridge, builds two or three sandwiches, and finishes the milk or orange juice or whatever by guzzling it straight out of the carton.  I love the big guy.  The case brings in Petra Connor, and she has been saddled with a mysterious, stiff, and exceedingly uncommunicative partner. Allison, a psychologist introduced in the previous book, is back on the scene. The book is about the case as much as relationships; Alex is attempting to kindle a new romance with fellow psychologist Allison while still trying to maintain a strained friendship with Robin.  I liked this change--I've been finding Robin increasingly irritating, especially in the last few books. Milo, on the other hand, definitely does not approve--he keeps acting like the forlorn kid stranded by a divorce.


One of the aspects I really like about the series is the default niceness level.  In general hardboiled, it seems that everyone the detective meets, whether or not they are guilty of the final crime, is a nasty, selfish person.  Hardboiled tends to pride itself in uncovering the gritty, nasty aspects of humanity, delving into the darkest corners and painting the world with grimy fingers. Kellerman doesn't do this.  In his books, it seems to me that there's a higher "nice default;" people who do good things are not always self-serving hypocrites; kind acts are sometimes precisely what they seem.  Alex Delaware's voice is helpful in this respect.  His narration really does make him feel like a psychologist to me; he tends to describe without judgment, and often with compassion.  Admittedly, he also suspects everyone of everything, but those suspicions come out only in comments voiced to Milo, not in his narration.  This one's a little crankier than standard; one can only assume that circumstances have made Alex tetchy.


Stylistically, this one's a little weird: Alex's narration is interspersed with third-person narration from both Petra Connor's perspective and that of her new partner, plus a few moments from Milo's perspective.  I'm glad that Kellerman didn't stick with the narration style, but it was interesting to see Alex from other peoples' eyes. 


Overall, A Cold Heart is another solid entry in the series, another in the set of books I've been devouring like M&M's.  Perhaps the one thing that stood out in this one is the analysis of "artists who matter" versus those who fail, the desperate attempts to rise to success; the commentary of the outsiders, the "leeches on the body artistic" that so heavily influence that meteoric rise and fall.


[1] Another series that falls short in this respect are the Kate Daniels books.  Don't believe me? Quick, name them off in order, then tell me what happens in each book.  See what I mean?  Burns, slays, bites, whatever? No idea which is which. Compare that to the multifaceted titles of the early Bosch books or Mike Carey or even the ever-punning Dresden Files.

[2] The title comes from one of the victim's song titles, as well as being a painfully obvious description of a sociopath.