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My usual favourite type of book to settle into and read is a good detective thriller, something dark, exploring the criminal psyche. As such, I have entertained my own urges to read authors such as Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Ian Rankin, Minette Walters and Val McDermid to name but a few. More recently, I have strayed from the path and done something unconventional in reading different styles. This has included Stephen King's The Dark Tower series as well as some Hardy Boys books. Last Summer I read Kate Morton's historical saga The House At Riverton.
However, in reverting back to my usual detective thriller, the exploration of the human psyche, I seem to have met with what I like to call reader's block! I have read Jonathan Kellerman before. Granted, not a great deal, but a couple of books. I equate his recurring character, psychologist Alex Delaware, with that of James Patterson's Alex Cross. Not similar in terms of specialities, but very much so in terms of the person who comes out of the book and also how the author treats them.
A Cold Heart is one of the later books to feature Kellerman's police psychologist Delaware, published in 2003. Although I have read a couple of books featuring him before, I am not up to scratch at all on the goings on with the characters who feature book after book. This means that I went in blind into the middle of a 'series' of books, in effect. One thing I am glad to say is that there was only a little referencing to previous books and history between some of the characters, and when it happened, Kellerman was quick to provide a brief but clear recap for those who have forgotten or even those who haven't experienced it before. It is brief enough that those who have read the previous books don't get too bored with it revisiting too much of previous books.
A Cold Heart reunites the popular team of Detective Milo Sturgis and police psychologist Alex Delaware, as they join with another Kellerman character, Petra Connor, who is working on a suspicious murder. Pretty soon, supershrink Delaware susses out a common link between a series of murders to be that they were all rising stars in their field. From Baby Boy Lee's blues music to Julie Kipper's art, there are a number of unfortunate victims, and it seems that it will take a lot to track down and bring to justice their killer.
There are a number of things thrown into the equation here, which, in retrospect, are well interwoven by Kellerman. I will come to them in a second, but first I want to substantiate my earlier comment that this was an unsuccesful return to the detective thriller for me. I think the problem doesn't lie with the writing, more the lack of prior knowledge of the characters. Kellerman treats his recurring characters much in the same way James Patterson does with his. The only difference is that Patterson doesn't include as much detail and draw things out as much. Kellerman's writing is far more descriptive and detailed, and on this occasion, it was a downfall rather than an appreciative element. He does go some way to recapping and this does create understanding, but the characters are obviously well visited ones, and it makes it harder to read.
Kellerman's analysis of his characters is, on the whole, well woven. There is a a lot of focus on the main characters, although it is made clear that they have been substantially examined in other books by him. Sturgis and Delaware have collaborated before, while Connor is a separate Kellerman character. This book merges the different heroes the author has created. Add into this the deeply disturbed and, indeed, disturbing Eric Stahl as the partner Petra is lumbered with, and you have yourself a strange combination of characters and with no way to turn.
In a way, this outshadows the actual plot itself, and this is also a bit of a gripe. Kellerman spends a lot of time seemingly writing as if he were Delaware, analysing and re-analysing everything and everyone all the time, and to be honest, it did get too complicated at times. I felt like I had to slow down a few times to ensure I understood not only the words on the page, but also the connotations of them. Even the smallest conversations are analysed by the odd comment or two, and it just makes for hard reading.
As our selection of heroes inevitably draw closer to a possible and plausible solution and culprit, Kellerman also increases the frequency with which he examines an ongoing theme, which is that of Delaware's personal life. This is something that is best understood by those who have read the previous books, but you can get a gist of what has gone on before easily enough with the way Kellerman writes up the history in just a couple of minutes, and this part of the interweaving with the plot that Kellerman does do rather well, making it seemingly effortless how links between everyone sprout up. He must have a particularly intricate spider diagram sitting somewhere for this one!
The plot is essentially well contrived, and by the end of the book I was impressed with the way things turned out and how the situation developed as the tale was told. However, it has taken me the best part of a couple of weeks to read it, and although the basic plot has stayed with me, I have found it hard to get into and complete and as a result, some of the more subtle elements and characters have fallen by the wayside for me. This did confuse me towards the end, but I managed to hang in there with the clever plot and I finally got it.
However, a good book has to grab me from the start or be worth the perseverence, and while this did have a well ended twist to it, it could have been done so much better and with less waffle through the middle, which is probably what made me take so long to read it. I finished the book earlier today, and although the last 60 or 70 pages flew by, the first 300 or so were far too much like hard work, and the results weren't enough for it!
I remember being similarly unimpressed with a couple of other Kellerman books, but we'll have to see if I can muster up the energy, courage and patience to try another of his books. Perhaps I will one day, but it just seems like too much hard work for such a little reward in the end if this is anything to go by.