True Detectives: A Novel
By Jonathan Kellerman
Random House Large Print, 2009, 528 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 29, 2009
After writing a couple of non-fiction books, Jonathan Kellerman wrote thirty one mystery novels since 1985, all best sellers. Twenty three of them have the clear thinking psychologist Alex Delaware as its hero. Each novel is fast paced with clever dialogue, interesting descriptions of places and people and things, including clothing, and an in-depth psychological portrait of the peopleís foibles, good and bad.
Kellermanís characters are off beat, which makes them interesting and entertaining. One of his early mysteries concerns a Jewish cop in Jerusalem, Israel, who was a Yemenite. His Delaware novels include a police detective that is gay and overweight. Kellermanís main characters do not use Sherlock Holmesian methods of analyzing objects such as cigarette ashes, but surf the internet to discover truths.
The heroes in True Detectives are two brothers, one white and one black, the sons of the same mother, but different fathers, both of whom were police officers, partners and close friends. The two brothers served as police detectives. One remained on the force, but the other left to become a private detective. Both are very zealous in their work and very competent. But, unlike their fathers who liked each other, they suffer from sibling rivalry. This rivalry adds salt and pepper to the tale.
Kellerman names the two Moses and Aaron, which may remind the reader of the famous biblical siblings Moses the law giver and Aaron the priest, who were not rivals. In fact Aaron the elder of the two never complained that his younger brother took the leadership role over the Israelites and gave him a secondary position as priest. Moses, according to the Bible had a black wife. Kellermanís brothers are the opposite: Moses is white and the elder of the two. Aaron is black.
Moses the police officer was involved in a disappearance case for over a year and is agitated that he is unable to solve the case and recover the woman. Then, by chance, his brother Aaron is hired to find her. The two brothers, unable to get along, work separately to search for the missing woman. They discover murders and other crimes and a wide assortment of interesting and unusual characters.
Kellerman has an interesting writing style. He is unlike the traditional mystery writers who spice their tale with clues, offering their readers an opportunity to solve the whodunit before the author reveals the truth. These writers add "red herrings," or false clues, to mislead the readers, a practice that does not bother the readers, but adds to the game.
Kellerman has red herrings but does not use them as false clues. He uses the red herrings to create twists and turns in the novels. In True Detectives, the bothers, working from different angles, move from one fact to another, first one person seems to be the prime suspect, but soon another takes this personís place. But the conclusion of the story, although consistent with all that precedes it, does not flow from what previously occurred. Kellerman could have placed any one of a hundred different interesting endings. This is another typical Kellerman method.
To be more specific, without revealing the story and its several plots, one of the brothers puts pressure on one of the characters, a person known at the outset of the tale, and this person reveals what the two were trying to find out from page one. The brother learns what he learns from the physical pressure, not from any clues.
But this style should not lead readers to think that Kellerman is not a good writer and that his mysteries in general and this novel in particular are deficient. Quite the contrary. His tales are generally filled with attention holding unusual developments and each of the many people that is introduced is sketched so that Kellerman ends by offering us a marvelous story with a treasure of small psychological vignettes.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of a series of books on Maimonides, a twelfth century rational philosopher, and the co-author of a series of books on Targum Onkelos, the earliest existing translation of the Hebrew Bible. Both are published by Gefen Publishing House, www.israelbooks.com.