Jonathan Kellerman, Blood Test (Signet, 1986)
[originally posted 5Dec2001]
I spent most of this book waiting for that proverbial other shoe. Kellerman, in my mind, has always been one of those Andrew Vachss-style one-trick ponies who blames all of the world’s problems on one narrow, and possibly specious, band of the psychotherapeutic spectrum. I hasten to add that I based that opinion on reviews and a cursory reading of Kellerman’s first Alex Delaware novel, When the Bough Breaks, a few years back (I read it in tandem with one of Vachss’ books, which may have further colored my thinking). Removed from both Vachss and the rather amateurish effort of Kellerman’s first novel, I picked up Blood Test more as a way to pad the numbers for 2001—skim fifty pages, dump it, chalk up another book in the it’s-been-read pile. Blood Test, however, surprised me.
Alex Delaware returns, this time to try and hunt down a kidnapped cancer patient. The list of suspects isn’t too long, but it’s certainly juicy—the kid’s parents (who have also gone missing), an alternative-medicine-loving pot-smoking ex-hippie doctor, and an organically-minded SoCal cult founded by an ex-Beverly Hills lawyer who got shot in the head. Oh, yeah, and the everpresent “random crime” theory. Add to this Delaware’s being stalked by the extremely angry husband in a recently-finished child custody case who lost and lost big (and blames Delaware, of course), and you get 400 pages of pretty-durn-good mystery.
The shoe does drop, of course. What makes Kellerman predictable isn’t whodunit, but whytheydunit. In relation to many mystery writers, this is quite the handicap, because knowing the why before you open the cover will certainly narrow the playing field (and anyone with a passing acquaintance with Alex Delaware will know the why of it at that point). On the up side, though, Kellerman’s one-man crusade isn’t nearly the week-old scrod that Andrew Vachss’ one-man crusade is, and that makes Kellerman a whole lot more readable. Standard mystery fare, but easy reading and compelling enough to keep the pages turning. ** ½