Billy Straight

Billy Straight

3.9 21
by Jonathan Kellerman
     
 

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Jonathan Kellerman, America's foremost author of psychological suspense, weaves a tale of innocence, urban depravity and the resilience of the human spirit, bringing to life one street kid's efforts to survive in the face of unspeakable evil.

Overview

Jonathan Kellerman, America's foremost author of psychological suspense, weaves a tale of innocence, urban depravity and the resilience of the human spirit, bringing to life one street kid's efforts to survive in the face of unspeakable evil.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
In a rare departure from his bestselling Alex Delaware series, Jonathan Kellerman now gives us his finest novel in several years: Billy Straight, an absorbing, multilayered suspense story built around the conjunction of a runaway child, a psychopathic killer, and a dedicated Los Angeles detective.

The runaway child is Billy Straight, an undersize 12-year-old who leaves his home in Watson, California, when life with his mother's new boyfriend, a 300-pound biker named Motor (a.k.a. Moron) Moran, becomes more than he can endure. Billy, who is both bright and resourceful, tries to make a life for himself in Los Angeles's Griffith Park. He establishes a rotating series of open-air nests, lives on garbage and the leavings of others, "borrows" books from a local branch of the L.A. Public Library, and learns to survive amid the constant predatory presence of junkies, dealers, prostitutes, and perverts. Then one day he witnesses the brutal murder of a beautiful young woman, an act that reinforces his belief in the essentially savage nature of the world around him.

The murder victim is Lisa Ramsey, former wife of television star Hart Ramsey, whose well-publicized history of domestic violence makes him an obvious — perhaps too obvious — suspect. The bulk of the subsequent narrative is told from the alternating perspectives of Billy Straight and a homicide detective named Petra Connor, who is handed the thankless task of spearheading an investigation that shows every sign of becoming a media circus in the manner of the O. J. Simpson case. Petra's investigationquicklyunearths the possibility that a witness was present at the murder scene; and Billy's picture, accompanied by a $25,000 bounty put up by the victim's parents, soon appears on the front page of all major Los Angeles newspapers.

From this point forward, Billy finds himself in constant jeopardy, pursued by Lisa Ramsey's killer and by a number of L.A. lowlifes interested only in the money. Eventually Billy's path intersects with those of both Petra and the murderer, and the novel ends with a moment of climactic violence. Before then, however, a number of other lives have been lost, or irrevocably altered, by the combined forces of stupidity, selfishness, and greed.

Kellerman's great strength, in addition to his knack for constructing complex, compulsively readable narratives, is his ability to understand and articulate the psychological state of a 12-year-old boy whom the world has swept aside. The majority of the characters in this book are viewed — and judged — by their capacity to confirm or contradict Billy's view of the universe as a hostile, loveless place. In the end, despite the fact that so many people want either to use him or do him harm, Billy encounters — through characters like Petra Connor and a good-hearted Holocaust survivor named Sam Ganzer — enough kindness and concern to justify the tentative, uncertain belief that he just might find a place of safety somewhere in the world.

For fans of the Alex Delaware series, there are two points worth noting. First, Delaware himself makes a brief appearance in the novel, helping Billy come to terms with the traumas of his recent life. Second, in a letter attached to the advance reader's edition, Kellerman notes that a new Delaware novel is in the final stages of completion, so that series will, apparently, continue. Still, Billy Straight represents a useful departure from the main line of Kellerman's career, allowing him to approach his characteristic concerns from an effective — and affecting — new perspective. If you're a Delaware fan, Billy Straight is essential reading. If you're not yet familiar with Kellerman's work, then his latest book, with its representative combination of suspense, compassion, and psychological acuity, is an ideal place to begin.

—Bill Sheehan

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. He is currently working on a book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub.

Charles Winecoff
. . . this ambitious new novel by an old pro lacks the gritty feel of Hollywood sleaze that writers like Elmore Leonard live and breathe. . .In the end, the busy but thin plot can't shake the underlying saccharine tone. Billy's surname says it all.
-- Entertainment Weekly
USA Today
Often mystery writers can either plot like devils or create believable characters. Kellerman stands out because he can do both. . . masterfully.
Detroit Free Press
Jonathan Kellerman doesn't just write psychological thrillers; he owns the genre.
Marilyn Stasio
...[T]he reason you're turning the pages so fast...[is] the winsome title character and frequent narrator....The kid is irresistible.
The New York Times Book Review
David Lehman
...Kellerman...has justly earned his reputation as a master of the psychological thriller....the writing is vivid, the suspense sustained...
People Magazine
Library Journal
For 12-year-old Billy, dubbed "Straight" because of his strong sense of moral duty, life on the run in L.A. is preferable to living with his addicted mother and her sadistic boyfriend. But after witnessing the stabbing murder of a celebrity's ex-wife, things get tougher for Billy; he saw the killer's license plate and knows he should tell, but he's terrified of both the killer and the police, so he runs for his life. LAPD Detective Petra Connor investigates the murder and begins to search for Billy--as do the media, bounty hunters, and the killer. Kellerman (Survival of the Fittest, LJ 8/97) has given Detective Alex Delaware only a cameo role here, but Billy and Petra are poignant, likable characters in a fast-paced, riveting tale that will keep readers hanging until the very last page. Another winner from the master of the psychological thriller; highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/98.]--Rebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN
People
A master of the psychological thriller
New York Times Book Review
Kellerman really knows how to keep those pages turning.
Kirkus Reviews
While Alex Delaware, his psychologist-sleuth (The Clinic, 1997, etc.), is out on a one-book hiatus, Kellerman produces his best work yet. Young Billy Straight, fleeing domestic non-tranquility-his mom's a drunk, her boyfriend's a sadist-happens on a woman being stabbed to death. It traumatizes him, of course-not only the brutality of it, but its way of placing on his thin shoulders one more impossible burden. What should he do? Should he tell the police he's seen a license plate number? He's only 12, but Bill is named "Straight" for a reason: he's a boy who takes moral dilemmas seriously. But this time, nevertheless, he runs. Facing the police, risking a return to the misery of his home as well as possible exposure to a killer, is more good behavior than he can force on himself. The murder victim turns out to be the divorced wife of a well-known television star-and a case for the LAPD's Detective Petra Connor, who is less than overjoyed at it, knowing it will be high profile and a media magnet. Launching the kind of professional investigation she prides herself on is tricky business in a fish bowl. Brass will get nervous. In addition, her usually rock-solid partner is already distracted in a way that mystifies her, and he won't explain himself, making Petra feel put upon and deserted. But there's plenty of bulldog in this pretty Detective, belying her laid-back and understated look. Relentlessly, she tracks down the leads that at first point unerringly to the disgruntled and jealous former husband. Soon, however, other possibilities occur, until at last Petra connects with Billy during a climactic, blood-drenched shoot-out that resolves all. An engrossing tale in lean,straightforward prose. Readers leery of Kellerman's style will be hard put to find the purple patches usually associated with it. .

From the Publisher
“Jonathan Kellerman has justly earned his reputation as a master of the psychological thriller. . . . The writing is vivid, the suspense sustained, and [he] has arranged one final, exquisitely surprising plot twist to confound the complacent reader.”—People (Book of the Week)
 
“Riveting . . . nobody evokes Los Angeles better than Jonathan Kellerman.”—Los Angeles Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780345413864
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/05/1999
Edition description:
Reissue
Pages:
448
Product dimensions:
4.15(w) x 6.90(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the park you see things.
But not what I saw tonight.
God, God . . .
I wanted to be dreaming but I was awake, smelling chili meat and onions and the pine trees.

First, the car drove up to the edge of the parking lot. They got out and talked and he grabbed her, like in a hug. I thought maybe they were going to kiss and I'd watch that.
Then all of a sudden, she made a weird sound-surprised, squeaky, like a cat or dog that gets stepped on.

He let go of her and she fell. Then he bent down next to her and his arm started moving up and down really fast. I thought he was punching her, and that was bad enough, and I kept thinking should I do something. But then I heard another sound, fast, wet, like the butcher at Stater Brothers back in Watson chopping meat-chuck chuck chuck.

He kept doing it, moving his arm up and down.
I wasn't breathing. My heart was on fire. My legs were cold. Then they turned hot-wet.
Pissing my pants like a stupid baby!
The chuck chuck stopped. He stood up, big and wide, wiped his hands on his pants. Something was in his hand and he held it far from his body.
He looked all around. Then in my direction.
Could he see me, hear me-smell me?
He kept looking. I wanted to run but knew he'd hear me. But staying here could trap me-how could he see anything behind the rocks? They're like a cave with no roof, just cracks you can look through, which is the reason I picked them as one of my places.
My stomach started to churn around, and I wanted to run so badly my leg muscles were jumping under my skin.

A breeze came through the trees, blowing up pine smell and piss stink.
Would it blow against the chili-burger's wrapping paper and make noise? Would he smell me?
He looked around some more. My stomach hurt so bad.
All of a sudden he jumped ran back to the car, got in, drove away.
I didn't want to see when he passed under the lamp at the corner of the parking lot, didn't want to read the license plate.
plyr 1.

The letters burned into my mind.
Why did I look?
Why?

I'm still sitting here. My Casio says 1:12 a.m.
I need to get out of here, but what if he's just driving around and comes back-no, that would be stupid, why would he do that?
I can't stand it. She's down there, and I smell like piss and meat and onions and chili. Real dinner from the Oki-Rama on the Boulevard, that Chinese guy who never smiles or looks at your face. I paid $2.38 and now I want to throw it up.

My jeans are starting to get sticky and itchy. Going over to the public bathroom at the other end of the lot is too dangerous . . . that arm going up and down. Like he was just doing a job. He wasn't as big as Moron, but he was big enough. She trusted him, let him hug her . . . what did she do to make him so mad . . . could she still be alive?
No way. Impossible.

I listen carefully to see if she's making any sounds. Nothing but the freeway noise from across the east side of the park and traffic from the Boulevard. Not much traffic tonight. Sometimes, when the wind blows north, you hear ambulance sirens, motorcycles, car honks. The city's all around. The park looks like the country, but I know the difference.
Who is she?-forget that, I don't want to know.

What I want is to put tonight on rewind.
That squeaky sound-like he took the air right out of her. For sure she's . . . gone. But what if she isn't?
Even if she isn't, she will be soon, all that chucking. And what could I do for her, anyway? Breathe into her mouth, put my face in her blood?
What if he comes back while I'm doing it?
Would he come back? That would be stupid, but there are always surprises. She sure found that out.
I can't help her. I have to put this all out of my mind.
I'll sit here for ten more minutes-no, fifteen. Twenty. Then I'll get my Place Two stuff together and move.

Where to? Place One, up near the observatory, is too far, and so are Three and Four, even though Three would be good 'cause it has a stream for washing. That leaves Five, in the fern tangle behind the zoo, all those trees. A little closer, but still a long walk in the dark.
But it's also the hardest one to find.

Okay, I'll go to Five. Me and the animals. The way they cry and roar and smash against their cages makes it hard to sleep, but tonight I probably won't sleep anyway.
Meantime, I sit here and wait.
Pray.
Our Father in heaven, how about no more surprises?
Not that praying ever got me anything, and sometimes I wonder if there's anyone up there to pray to or just stars-humongous balls of gas in an empty black universe.
Then I get worried that I'm blaspheming.
Maybe some kind of God is up there; maybe He's saved me lots of times and I'm just too dumb to know it. Or not a good enough person to appreciate Him.
Maybe God saved me tonight, putting me behind the rocks, instead of out in the open.
But if he had seen me when he drove up, he probably would've changed his mind and not done anything to her.

So did God want her to . . .
No, he just would've gone somewhere else to do it . . . whatever.
In case You saved me, thank You, God.
In case You're up there, do You have a plan for me?

What People are saying about this

Jonathan Kellerman
From a barnesandnoble.com e-nnouncement

America's foremost author of psychological suspense takes a rare departure from his bestselling Alex Delaware series with the recently released BILLY STRAIGHT -- a riveting thriller that weaves together the lives of a 12-year-old runaway, a psychotic killer, and a dedicated detective from the LAPD. Here is what Jonathan Kellerman had to say when barnesandnoble.com asked about the inspiration behind his new book BILLY STRAIGHT.

Where Ideas Originate by Jonathan Kellerman

One of the questions I'm asked most frequently is "Where do you get your ideas?" So often am I faced with this that the urge to answer flippantly -- "From my warped mind." "At Sears." "At the blackjack table in Vegas." -- can be overwhelming.

The truth is that there's no pat answer. My ideas -- my novels themselves -- spring from a variety of sources. Sometimes a character appears to me and his/her persona drives the book. Other inspirations include chance meetings, overhearing a particularly delicious snippet of dialogue, my concern about social issues, and news items. (Not the headline-grabbing stuff. What turns me on is the obscure little piece buried in the back pages of some arcane journal.) Most often, a combination of factors is at play.

Occasionally, events from my own life guide my pen. For example, when I retired from the practice of psychology over a decade ago, I realized that my patients would remain in my life for as long as they needed my counsel. Hence, the first line of the book-in-progress, PRIVATE EYES: "A therapist's work is never over."

I've been quoted often regarding my affection for the two jobs with which I've been blessed: clinical psychology and writing fiction. What unites the two, I believe, is a deep curiosity, and hopefully, a compassion, about people. What differentiates them, is that psychology strives to develop rules about human behavior while fiction explores the exceptions to the rules.

Twelve-year-old Billy Straight, whom I believe to be among the most fascinating and endearing characters gracious enough to visit my head, presented himself in astonishing detail, virtually commanding me to write his story.

Billy is a grand exception, cast by Fate, Province, accident of birth -- whatever you choose to call it -- in the role of congenital victim. He enters this world in turmoil, encounters obstacles at every turn, and suffers the kind of terror and degradation that most children are fortunate never to encounter.

Yet, Billy never abandons his essential goodness, never takes leave of a strong moral stance. Billy survives. He thrives. I think of him as a hero for our time.

The same can be said for Petra Connor, the brilliant but troubled homicide cop who finds herself searching for Billy. Introduced in SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST, Petra kept returning to my office, urging, "C'mon, Kellerman, there's more to me than that little cameo."

The streets of Hollywood played a role, too.

For many years, I worked in an inner-city hospital on the tough east end of Hollywood, came into contact with street kids, learned about the horrors of abuse and abandonment. I wanted to write about street life, but not in the usual way -- merely reciting a litany of horrors -- because that had been done before. And because I don't traffic in despair.

I wanted to write about the exceptions.

Every page of this book was a joy to construct. Writing BILLY STRAIGHT permitted me to explore the resilience of the human spirit within the framework of what I hope is an entertaining and gripping thriller. For, despite the sometimes dismal state of the world, I remain a stubborn optimist.

I know life can't be tied up neatly. I always strive to avoid pat endings to my novels.

But there are heroes out there. And I'm one of the lucky guys who gets to tell some of their stories.

I hope you enjoy reading BILLY STRAIGHT as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Sincerely,

Jonathan Kellerman

From the Publisher
“Taut, compelling . . . Everything a thriller ought to be. The writing is excellent. The plotting is superior. The characters ring true.”
—USA Today

“JONATHAN KELLERMAN HAS JUSTLY EARNED HIS REPUTATION AS A MASTER OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER. . . . The writing is vivid, the suspense sustained, and [he] has arranged one final, exquisitely surprising plot twist to confound the complacent reader.”
People (Book of the Week)

“[A] TENSION-FILLED THRILLER . . . A COMPELLING READ . . . KELLERMAN MAKES YOU CARE DEEPLY FOR THIS CHILD.”
San Francisco Examiner

“RIVETING . . . NOBODY EVOKES LOS ANGELES BETTER THAN JONATHAN KELLERMAN.”
Los Angeles Times

Meet the Author

Jonathan Kellerman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than three dozen bestselling crime novels, including the Alex Delaware series, The Butcher’s Theater, Billy Straight, The Conspiracy Club, Twisted, and True Detectives. With his wife, bestselling novelist Faye Kellerman, he co-authored Double Homicide and Capital Crimes. With his son, bestselling novelist Jesse Kellerman, he co-authored the first book of a new series, The Golem of Hollywood. He is also the author of two children’s books and numerous nonfiction works, including Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children and With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars. He has won the Goldwyn, Edgar, and Anthony awards and has been nominated for a Shamus Award. Jonathan and Faye Kellerman live in California, New Mexico, and New York.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Beverly Hills, California
Date of Birth:
August 9, 1949
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Education:
B.A. in psychology, University of California-Los Angeles; Ph.D., University of Southern California, 1974
Website:
http://www.jonathankellerman.com/

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Billy Straight 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found that this book was not as gripping as Kellerman's other titles, most of his books are real page turners. The only reason I kept turning the pages in this one was because Billy Straight. I just wanted to take him home, adopt him and make sure the rest of his life was fantastic! Poor wee man. How could you not get involved? I would've liked to have known more about what happened to him - the end of the book left me hanging...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am an Alex Delaware fan as much as the next person, but this is a very intriguing departure from that series. Very enjoyable!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Billy Straight was a very likable young boy and wish the story had more to do with him. The killer was predictable. The book was okay but took a long time to read although it wasn't boring it wasn't a page turner either. Would like to know what became of Billy Straight.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Normally, Kellerman's book's drag in the 1st few chapters, then pick up, but this book was a fast read. I could not put it down from the moment I read the first page. You really feel for the characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book & the new characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great. A real page turner. I read it quite a while ago, and I'm tempted to buy again. A real look into the grimey streets of LA and Hollywood and homeless street kid.This was my first Johnathon Kellerman novel and it did not dissapoint.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing thriller. Snatches you in and then spits you out. :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
An avid fan of J. Kellerman's books, I've always been very impressed with his writing style. While 'Billy Straight' is still a good book, stylistically it seems to pay homage to a variety of mystery writers' styles. Unfortunately, this homage gets a bit distracting at times. A side note: If a female character is not interested in styles, trends, or labels, why is it necessary for her to note the label in every article of clothing she wears?
Guest More than 1 year ago

I liked Billy Straight and wished there had been more about him and less about the solving of another Hollywood murder. I found myself skimming the non-Billy story and then savoring each moment with the scared child.

I wasn't fooled by the murderer or the red herrings the author kept tossing about. I figured out 'who done it' right away, but I kept reading because I wanted to make sure that Billy survived the trauma of witnessing a brutal murder, trying to survive on the mean streets of LA and the loss of innocence.

I'm sure the author's been in touch with major motion picture studios in Hollywood. This story has all the makings of a box office hit. I just wish there had been more about Billy and Sam, the ancient Jewish man who finally befriends Billy. I liked Sam and would have put Billy in his charge.

I recommend this book....not as the best murder mystery on the block, but because I really liked the boy and his struggles to survive...and even prosper!

Guest More than 1 year ago
The book Billy Straight was a pretty good book. The book is about a boy who is 12 years old and is from Watson, California. The first chapter is very interesting. The first chapter is about a beautiful lady who gets murdered that had happened in a park called Griffith park in L. A. Billy so happen to have seen the murder because he spends most of his time in the park rather then at home. Billy is so scared and worried that the killer could have seen him he pisses his pants and runs away and tries to forget about it. From here this book makes you want to read on to find out what Billy is going to do weather he¿s going to tell or not. The next couple of chapters is boring it talks about two detectives that are going to be researching the murder. It talks to much about there own life. The next chapters get interesting again Billy decides to run away to Hollywood. He can¿t handle living with his mom¿s new boyfriend who always picks on him. Billy has no idea where he is going and what he¿s going to do. He found 126 dollars in a tampax box his mom hid away and decides to take that to use as spending money. Billy jumps on a bus to Hollywood and tries to start a new life by himself. Billy is actually a really smart boy and finds away to educate him self. A reason why I like this book was because of Billy Straight because of him it made the book interesting. the reason I didn¿t like this book was when Billy wasn¿t talking. It was too boring and not interesting I kind of got lost when he wasn¿t talking. This book made me think about homeless kids and kids with no parents. It must be really hard for them growing up on their own and having to learn on their own. I think that your parent¿s play a really big roll in life and for kids with out parents must have a hard time. I don¿t know how I would compare this book to other books because I don¿t read books hardly every. I can¿t remember when I read last. I would say this was a good book for me even though I don¿t like to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great story with great characters....very enjoyable except for the end......cant say more but didn't like it!