Death Is at Hand
In the 15 years that have passed since When the Bough Breaks was published, Jonathan Kellerman has produced a substantial body of fiction that combines viscerally exciting melodrama with subtlety and psychological complexity. These characteristic virtues are on full display in Dr. Death, Kellerman's 16th novel, and the 14th entry in the bestselling series featuring child psychologist -- and amateur detective -- Alex Delaware.
As the novel opens, Alex has signed on, once again, as an independent consultant to the Los Angeles Police Department. Partnered, as usual, with gay homicide detective Milo Sturgis, Alex finds himself investigating the death of a notorious, Kevorkian-like figure named Eldon Mate, popularly known as "Dr. Death." A controversial advocate of the "right to die," and a direct
participant in at least 50 assisted suicides, Mate enters the headlines one last time when his grotesquely mutilated body is found strapped to the "humanitron," a machine designed to facilitate the suicides of terminally ill clients.
Alex's involvement nearly results in an unintended conflict of interest. Some months earlier, Alex had treated a teenaged girl named Stacy Doss, whose mother, Joanne, ended a protracted illness by taking her own life, presumably with Mate's assistance. Richard Doss, Stacey's father and Joanne's husband, bitterly resented the role Mate played in his wife's suicide. A wealthy, powerful man with a hair-trigger temper, Richard is one of a number of people with a viable motive for murder.
As the investigation proceeds, Alex and Milo steadily unearth a string of prospective culprits. Included among them are Mate's lawyer, who disappeared immediately after his client's death; Mate's son, a homeless, possibly psychotic artist whose father abandoned him many years before; and various members of the wealthy, terminally dysfunctional Doss family. Complicating
all this is the possible involvement of an unrelated suspect: a traveling serial killer who goes by many names and whose modus operandi eerily mirrors the methods employed by Eldon Mate's killer.
Kellerman assembles his complex, multilayered plot with typical ingenuity, leading Alex through a lethal labyrinth of possibilities toward a violent, ironic conclusion. But Dr. Death is more than just a compelling novel of suspense. Like so much of Kellerman's work, it is also an acute, painfully precise portrait of a family torn apart by internal pressures and by the combined effects of guilt, grief, rage, hatred, and twisted, misplaced love. Dr. Death offers intelligent, compassionate, high-adrenaline entertainment and reaffirms Kellerman's position as one the leading modern practitioners of psychological suspense.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has just been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A series of well-publicized gentle deaths are the work of self-appointed angel of mercy Dr. Eldon Mate, who attends to the terminally ill in cheap hotel rooms or in the back of his van. Now Mate himself is dead, carved up and found by two joggers and their dog on a high road above Los Angeles. Like Kellerman's previous bestsellers, this title features psychologist Alex Delaware, whose self-righteous pomposity blends neatly, as it has before, into a narrative liberally dosed with psycho-angles and agreeably warped murder motives. This time out, Delaware works with cop Milo Sturgis and counsels Stacy and Eric Doss, two teenage children getting over their mother Joanne's death, which Dr. Mate seemingly helped to hasten. In his dual role, Delaware encounters a rogue FBI agent tracking a killer obsessed with Mate; Mate's disturbed son; and Richard Doss, the kids' father, who by slipping cash to a shady character in a dark bar is marked as a prime murder suspect. Joanne's illness too proves mysterious. But Kellerman isn't in top form here. Most annoyingly, the FBI guy does the bulk of the sleuthing legwork, while Delaware spends much of the book either making love or pontificating on motivations for characters all very similarly flawed. The ending is agreeably tricky, but by then great gobs of Delaware have either delighted Kellerman's faithful or else turned readers' stomachs in a way that serial deaths, gentle or otherwise, may have somehow failed to do. Kellerman's rep and the book's strong, geometric cover will send this one on to the lists. (Dec. 5) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kellerman has come up with another very enjoyable mystery. The crime-solving team of LAPD detective Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware are back to attempt to solve the murder of Eldon Mate Dr. Death who had attended more than 50 assisted suicides. In death, Mate is found in the rear of a rented van, hooked up to his own suicide machine. Read by John Rubinstein, this engaging story works very well on several levels, as it discusses psychology, dysfunctional families, and Southern California lifestyles, in addition to the ethics of euthanasia. The book has a remarkably contemporary feel about as up-to-date as tomorrow's headlines, yet it may also inspire repeat listening. Highly recommended; essential for detective and mystery collections. Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
Praise for Monster
"Kellerman is in peak form. . . . A surprising and complex story of festering evila tale that snakes its way to a stunningly dramatic conclusion."
People (Page-Turner of the Week)
Praise for Billy Straight
"Billy Straight is everything a thriller ought to be. The writing is excellent. The plotting is superior. The characters ring true. . . . A taut, compelling story."
Praise for Jonathan Kellerman
"Jonathan Kellerman doesn't just write psychological thrillershe owns the genre."
Detroit Free Press
"Often, mystery writers can either plot like devils or create believable characters. Kellerman stands out because he can do both. Masterfully."
"Kellerman excels at plotting, dialogue, procedural detail and insight into abnormal states of mind."
Los Angeles Times
"Kellerman is the acknowledged king of the psychological thriller."
The Dallas Morning News
Read an Excerpt
Irony can be a rich dessert, so when the contents of the van were publicized, some people gorged. The ones who'd believed Eldon H. Mate to be the Angel of Death.
Those who'd considered him Mercy Personified grieved.
I viewed it through a different lens, had my own worries.
Mate was murdered in the very early hours of a sour-smelling, fog-laden
Monday in September. No earthquakes or wars interceded by sundown, so the death merited a lead story on the evening news. Newspaper headlines in the
Times and the Daily News followed on Tuesday. TV dropped the story within twenty-four hours, but recaps ran in the Wednesday papers. In total, four days of coverage, the maximum in short-attention-span L.A. unless the corpse is that of a princess or the killer can afford lawyers who yearn for Oscars.
No easy solve on this one; no breaks of any kind. Milo had been doing his job long enough not to expect otherwise.
He'd had an easy summer, catching a quartet of lovingly stupid homicides during July and August--one domestic violence taken to the horrible extreme and three brain-dead drunks shooting other inebriates in squalid Westside bars. Four murderers hanging around long enough to be caught. It kept his solve rate high, made it a bit--but not much--easier to be the only openly gay detective in LAPD.
"Knew I was due," he said. It was the Sunday after the murder when he phoned me at the house. Mate's corpse had been cold for six days and the press had moved on.
That suited Milo just fine. Like any artist, he craved solitude. He'd played his part by not giving the press anything to work with. Orders from the brass. One thing he and the brass could agree on: reporters were almost always the enemy.
What the papers HAD printed was squeezed out of clip-file biographies, the inevitable ethical debates, old photos, old quotes. Beyond the fact that
Mate had been hooked up to his own killing machine, only the sketchiest details had been released:
Van parked on a remote section of Mulholland Drive, discovery by hikers just after dawn.
DR. DEATH MURDERED.
I knew more because Milo told me.
The call came in at 8 P.M., just as Robin and I had finished dinner. I was out the door, holding on to the straining leash of Spike, our little French bulldog. Pooch and I both looking forward to a night walk up the glen. Spike loved the dark because pointing at scurrying sounds let him pretend he was a noble hunter. I enjoyed getting out because I worked with people all day and solitude was always welcome.
Robin answered the phone, caught me in time, ended up doing dog-duty as I
returned to my study.
"Mate's yours?" I said, surprised because he hadn't told me sooner. Suddenly edgy because that added a whole new layer of complexity to my week.
"Who else merits such blessing?"
I laughed softly, feeling my shoulders humping, rings of tension around my neck. The moment I'd heard about Mate I'd worried. Deliberated for a long time, finally made a call that hadn't been returned. I'd dropped the issue because there'd been no good reason not to. It really WASN'T any of my business. Now, with Milo involved, all that had changed.
I kept the worries to myself. His call had nothing to do with my problem.
Coincidence--one of those nasty little overlaps. Or maybe there really are only a hundred people in the world.
His reason for getting in touch was simple: the dreaded W word: whodunit. A
case with enough psychopathology to make me potentially useful.
Also I was his friend, one of the few people left in whom he could confide.
The psychopathology part was fine with me. What bothered me was the friendship component. Things I knew but didn't tell him. COULDN'T tell him.
From the Hardcover edition.