A Couple of Jonathans You Can’t Get Yet (Ya Gotta Wait ‘Til April)

Perennial favorite Jonathan Kellerman has to date sold some 40 million books, well over one million per title, on average. Forty million, that’s a four followed by seven zeroes. It is a hard number to get your head around. So, perhaps a bit of perspective is in order here: 40,000,000 represents a sufficient quantity of books to give every man, woman, and child in the state of California his or her own Kellerman novel to read, and that is using the 2008 census figures for the Golden State, before the economy predicated the mass exodus to more affordable locales. It is enough books to donate his entire oeuvre (twenty-five Alex Delaware novels, a few stand-alones, several non-fiction titles, and two children’s books) to each denizen of Philadelphia, and still have leftovers for a number of the Main Line suburbs. Or how about this: if you were to lay all forty million Kellerman books end to end along the shoulder of Interstate 80, they would reach all the way from Boston to Seattle–and back! Plus a bit of sightseeing if the mood strikes you. (I know some of my nerdy friends are going to have to do the math on this, just to see if I am blowing smoke, so here is the basic calculation: I-80 is 3020.54 miles each way, per Wikipedia, for a total of 6041.08 miles; each book is approximately 10 inches in height, or .83 feet; there are 5280 feet in a mile, or 6360 books, give or take, if you prefer; so, multiply 6360 books times 6041 miles, and you come up with 38 million and change, close enough for jazz, wouldn’t you say?)

Kellerman’s latest Alex Delaware novel, Deception (Ballantine; ISBN 9780345505679; 352pp; $28), should do its part to increase that total, as it is a cleverly crafted and suspenseful tale of blackmail and murder (and particularly grisly murder, at that) in LA’s tony enclave of Bel Air. There are plenty of good candidates for chief suspect in the killing of private school teacher Elise Freeman: her ne’er-do-well grifter boyfriend; or possibly the Hispanic scholarship student who claims she made unwanted advances in his direction; perhaps the pair of spoiled rich kids who counted on Freeman to help them ace their SATs, by hook or by crook. Oh, and let’s not forget the duo of sociopathic pole dancers who hover around the edges of the investigation, seemingly always one step ahead of the folks who want to interrogate them. Um, excuse me, I mean interview them. The kicker, though, is that Elise Freeman made a DVD before she died, in which she recounted a lurid tale of sexual predation and abuse at the hands of three coworkers; hmm, that muddies the waters a bit. Deception is much more focused on the plot, and less so on Delaware’s personal life, than some previous entries in the series, and it is in plot development that Kellerman excels. Forty million readers can’t be wrong, right?

Jonathan number two is Jonathan Stride, protagonist of Brian Freeman’s police novels set in the wilds of northern Minnesota. Freeman’s books have been well-placed on my short must-read list for several years now, since I reviewed his debut novel, Immoral, in the Whodunit column of BookPage magazine (www.bookpage.com, or available in libraries and bookstores throughout the US) close to five years ago: 

“Not since Blake Crouch’s chilling Desert Places has a debut mystery caused such a stir in the halls of BookPage as Brian Freeman’s Immoral. Set in Duluth, Minnesota, Immoral traces the path of a serial killer, a deviant with a taste for teenage girls. The most recent victim is Rachel Deese, by most accounts a rather arrogant and amoral young woman. There is no body on hand, but all indications are that she has met with foul play like young Kerry McGrath, who was killed some 14 months before. Lieutenant Jonathan Stride, a recent widower, is assigned to the case, along with his Chinese-American partner, Sergeant Maggie Bei. Stride is the world-weary veteran of the pair; Bei, for her part, is the wisecracking sidekick. The plot is cleverly crafted, with villains crawling out of the woodwork at every turn. Even the most recent victim is more than a little twisted; rarely has a crime novel casualty been more deserving of her fate. Though a suspect is arrested, his trial resolves little, and raises yet more questions. Fast-forward three years: Stride is now remarried, not entirely happily; petite Maggie Bei has married a retired Olympic swimmer. The scene switches to Las Vegas, and two more lead characters are introduced. Also, there is some compelling evidence that Rachel may not be dead after all. Or is she? Immoral is a slick and savvy offering and the best debut mystery in quite some time.”

Fast forward a couple of years, and Freeman reappeared with the third book in the series, Stalked.

“Two years ago, I reviewed Brian Freeman’s first novel, Immoral, calling it “a slick and savvy offering and the best debut mystery in quite some time.” The book went on to win the Macavity Award. This month, Freeman is back with the third in his series featuring Duluth cop Jonathan Stride, his live-in, ex-cop girlfriend Serena Dial, and his Asian-American partner Maggie Bei: Stalked. All three characters are fleshed out considerably in this latest outing, especially Maggie, whose lurid after-hours life is about to come under scrutiny in ways the average person cannot begin to anticipate. “Dead of winter” takes on a new meaning as Maggie awakens to discover a) that her gun is missing from the nightstand, and b) that it has been used to plant a bullet squarely into the forehead of her husband (with whom, it must be said, she has not been getting along of late). Maggie’s cop instincts take over quickly; she has seen more than her share of dead bodies in her years as a homicide detective. She phones Stride immediately, and both know it goes without saying that Maggie will be considered the prime suspect. But Maggie knows things Stride cannot even guess at, and their convoluted relationship is about to get exponentially more complicated. A couple of clever subplots ratchet up the tension, and the final conflict on the frozen waters of a Minnesota lake is nothing short of inspired—a perfect read for a freezing February night!”  

In the latest installment, The Burying Place (Minotaur; ISBN 9780312562748; 352pp; $24.99), Stride is recovering, and not particularly well, from a fall into icy water from a tall bridge. He came very close to dying, and now he’s not entirely certain what is left to live for. Academically, he knows he has a loving wife, a compelling job, and close friends, but he cannot seem to muster up strong feelings for any of them. And then a series of killings is followed up by the kidnapping of a young child, and like it or not, Stride is back in the game. And in the space of just 352 pages, his life will change dramatically, more than it has in the previous several books put together. The Burying Place is a bit  convoluted compared to earlier Freeman novels, and there are a couple of things I am still scratching my head about, but there is no doubt that it is a page turner par excellence, guaranteed to appeal to his regular readers and to draw in an admiring new crowd as well. 

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