Silent Partner: An Alex Delaware Novel (Alex Delaware #4) - Jonathan Kellerman

...Love to hear that Robin go tweet tweet tweet.


Except for me, apparently.


~~Spoilers for Alex Delaware's later romantic and dog-parenting status.  Nothing you couldn't have guessed if you've ever read this type of series, but hey, you've been warned.~~


I found the Alex Delaware series sometime around January and have been burning through it ever since. I started out in the later books, and was extremely impressed by a certain vibe I can only describe as "cozy."  At least in the later books, Alex Delaware's narration is nonjudgmental, almost tending towards kind, with none of the scorn or derision or disgust that authors tramping down the mean streets tend to shove into their characterizations.  Again, in the later books, the evil is limited to a select few.  In most hardboiled books, the detective ends up discovering that everyone is guilty of something, that each character's veneer masks something ugly underneath.  After #15 or so, most of the characters that Alex encounters may initially look suspicious, but when he peels away their protective layers, their humanity emerges.  Last, in the later books, Alex's personal life is relatively free of angst: he has a healthy relationship, a solid friendship with Milo, and an utterly adorable French bulldog who likes to nuzzle, cuddle, and smile in that quintessential bulldog way.


I've only recently made my way back to beginning of the series, and I was disappointed to discover that none of these traits really hold in the early books.  Some day, when I dredge up the requisite energy and attention, I'm going to review the first book and draw some of these comparisons, but I'm focusing this particular gripe session on Robin Castagna, Alex's major and multi-book love interest.


I've been reading these books too rapidly and too consecutively to be able to really differentiate them, so my gripes about Robin will range from the first book through into the double digits.  In terms of this book itself, the plot is not much to write home about.  It involves twins and a set of exceedingly improbable circumstances and impressively powerful people.  Its sheer implausibility, as well as its focus on femme fatales, led me to spend most of the book musing about Robin.


In the beginning of Silent Partner, we discover that Robin has left Alex.  Her rationale? She wants space.  She wants freedom.  He's too controlling.  He treats her like a little girl, and she feels like a little girl.  His life is too together.  He's not sufficiently broken for her.  And so she runs off, providing the impetus for the rest of the plot.


That scenario might sound familiar; after all, Kellerman uses it several times.  Robin's incoherent reproaches are guaranteed to earn Alex a little grudging sympathy--in fact, I find the last complaint downright dysfunctional.  Sadly, I find Robin to be vastly irritating as a character; in fact, when I started thinking about it, I realized that Robin doesn't have much of a character.  Her real role in the story is to act as a complete bitch in a way that will drive some angst into the plot.


That, in itself, is not so unusual; after all, I spent years praying that Polly would be the next murderee in the Qwilleran books.  However, Robin takes it a step farther: she is so utterly devoid of consistency in either personality or complaint that her role as plot device is painfully evident. In the first book, she wants Alex to stay calm, relaxed, and idle, and wants to keep him from turning back into a passionate and driven person. (God knows why, but she appears to think that PTSD-driven apathy is healthy.)  In the next few books, it's become a safety thing: it's too dangerous for him, and he's putting her at risk. Then she suddenly discovers a desire to expand her career. Then, at random plot convenience, it suddenly turns into Alex being insufficiently broken and Robin wanting to be treated like an adult.   At some point, we get a bit of the family creation angst. Then she decides she doesn't like the "ugliness" of what he does. Next, he's hiding stuff from her (can't imagine why he'd do that). On and on and on.


I've probably missed a few of her crises, but you get the picture: Robin isn't really a character.  She's a plot device, a tool to create this week's brand of angst that can motivate or complicate the story.


Long story short, if you want to try out the Alex Delaware books, I'd advise trying some of the later ones.  I enjoy this type of pulp, and I think this is one of the better series in the genre.  However, I'm getting really, really tired of the woman-as-plot-device motif.  I suppose I should be grateful that Alex doesn't trade up for a new True Love model in every book, a la Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch.  However, at least Bosch's lady angst has some excuse for its high variance.  There is one thing to be grateful for: in the later books, Robin's complaints occasionally hinge on the rational, and as the series evolves, she slowly develops into a character rather than simply a grab-bag of drama.