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I've never read a Jonathan Kellerman book before but there are three of them lurking on my bookshelves after my partner got me them as a present a couple of years ago. In fact, after checking Jonathan Kellerman's website I've actually discovered that the three books I have are the first three in the Alex Delaware series rather than just some titles plucked off the shelf at random. Some thought and planning went into their selection then!
About the author:
Jonathan Kellerman was born in New York in 1949 but grew up in Los Angeles. Aged 24, he received a PhD in psychology, specialising in the treatment of children. He is married to the author Faye Kellerman and they have four children. His novel, When The Bough Breaks, which introduced Alex Delaware, was published in 1985 and was the first in a series now running to 22 titles. Kellerman has also written 6 other novels in which Delaware does not appear. He has his own website
where readers can find out more about his books, his family and how he works.
Published in 1986, Blood Test is the second of Kellerman's books to feature his psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware. There are a couple of events referred to during the course of the story which presumably occurred in the first Delaware book, When The Bough Breaks, but, I can say that with any degree of certainty as I haven't read it.
Blood Test opens during the latter part of a custody hearing. The couple in question, The Moodys, have separated and each parent has attempted to get custody of their children. Delaware has interviewed all the members of the family and has given his testimony before the story opens. The judge orders that Mr Moody should have no contact with his children until he's received psychiatric help and shown that his mental state has improved. Later there's a physical altercation in the car park between Delaware and Mr. Moody, emphasising the fact that Moody's angry about the custody decision and that he partly blames Delaware for the outcome of the hearing.
Later, Delaware gets a message to call Dr. Raoul Melendez-Lynch of the Western Paediatric Medical Centre. Arriving there Raoul tells him about Woody Swopes, a five year old boy with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. His parents and sister are odd to say the least and may be about to take the boy out of the hospital and deny him the treatment he needs. Raoul thinks that part of this is down to other staff in the hospital but also that the family may have been influenced by a sect called the Touch.
Delaware gets to meet the boy and play a game with him, but, shortly afterwards he's snatched from the hospital. Tracking the family down to their motel room Delaware and Beverly, a colleague from the hospital, discover the room in disarray. There's blood on the bed, the family's clothes are strewn around the room and there's no sign of any of them. Delaware calls in his friend, police officer Milo Sturgis, but both know that even if Woody is still alive he'll die sooner or later without the treatment that he needs....
One of Kellerman's potential strong points is his use of description. Generally speaking, we get a physical description of the majority of characters within the story, along with what they're wearing and perhaps some information about how they link into other characters. This, of course, allows the reader form an impression of just what the characters look like. However, the trait may perhaps be used to excess, depending on your point of view, as Kellerman describes a number of things:- a lock "split like overcooked sausage", a gravel driveway responding to Delaware's footsteps with "breakfast cereal sounds", the sky was "alley cat grey" etc which the reader may or may not find a little wearing depending of their point of view.
In general though Kellerman's characters are well drawn and come from a variety of different ethnic backgrounds. I was surprised to discover that Milo Sturgis, who, I suppose is the "second goodie" after Delaware, was gay and had a boyfriend, especially as this book was published in 1986 and the whole "HIV / AIDS / It's a gay disease" view was still prevalent in some sections of society.
There main focus of the story is on Delaware, but that's hardly surprising given that he's the "hero" character and also that the story is narrated in the first person. We're told that Sturgis's cop partner Del Hardy saved Delaware's life once and that Delaware knows Raoul and Beverly but, without having read "When The Bough Breaks" there's no way of knowing whether these events occurred during the first Delaware book or whether they predate that. What I did find slightly annoying was that Diane Severe, the judge is the Moody case and Mal Worthy, Mrs. Moody's lawyer weren't really featured after the initial hearing. So, when, later on in the book they were mentioned, I'd almost forgotten who they were, particularly Mal Worthy.
Delaware seems to spend a fair amount of time analysing just about everyone that he comes into contact with and that can get annoying after a while. Then, of course, when he's conversing with colleagues from time to time the reader perhaps needs some understanding of psychology to know what the psychobabble they're talking about actually means. Thankfully, in this particular book, that's kept to a minimum and there were only a few points in the narrative where I was left wondering just exactly what Delaware and the person he was with were talking about.
In plot terms I felt less than satisfied about this book. The central plot, regarding Woody is well written and you're left wondering whether the family have taken him or whether he's been taken by the Touch "cult". At one point I was even starting to wonder whether Raoul himself had spirited the boy away so that the parents couldn't deny him the treatment he needed for his cancer. However, the other plot thread concerning the Moodys and the custody case was less satisfying. To me, it seemed to only have been included to provide some sort of possible threat to Delaware's life.
If you're the sort of reader who likes to play detective with these sorts of books then I think Blood Test is going to leave you a little disappointed. Kellerman helps the reader out to a certain extent by having Delaware ruminate on a number of discrepancies that have shown up in conversations that he's had about the Swopes with various characters in the book. However, to reach part of the explanation for what's happened you'll need to have read, digested and remember just about every single word of the novel in the first twenty chapters. The rest of the explanation as to what's happened and why isn't really accessible for the reader in terms of what they've read in the narrative. You may, if you have a particularly twisted mind set (or are perhaps a psychologist!), guess at it, but there's nothing tangible in the text to give any substance to the theory you might have arrived at.
Overall then, I felt rather underwhelmed by this book. On the whole, Kellerman writes well, but the only character I felt I got to know well was Delaware and there wasn't anything about him that provoked any sort of strong like or dislike in me. The rest of the characters were well described in the book too but I didn't feel any reaction towards them either. I should have felt sorry for Woody ~ a five year old boy with cancer who might die ~ but I didn't, nor did I feel angry / annoyed that his parents or members of the Touch Cult might have kidnapped him and prevented him from getting the treatment he needs. For some reason Kellerman's characters just left me feeling rather ambivalent about them.
This was hardly the "tour de force" book that the New York Times claimed on the back cover and nothing in it made it a page turner for me. Don't get me wrong, it's not an awful, badly written book, but if I'm going to invest three, four or five hours or my time reading something I want to be entertained, interested in the characters and the plot etc but the best thing I can say about this is that is was average. Of course, it's possible that Kellerman's other book are better and the fact that the two left on my shelves were presents makes me feel as though I should read them. I'm just hoping that if I do they turn out to be an improvement on this one. So, my recommendation is not to bother with this book unless you're going to read the whole of the Delaware series. If you're just looking for a "one off" to fill in some time there are other books on the market that you'll find more satisfying.
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Headline (6 Mar 2008)