At 5am in the upscale neighbourhood of Westwood Village, two removal men are making a routine pick-up when they make a fatal hit. It’s a man – who appeared from nowhere – naked and with no means of identification.
Not long after, a woman is found dead in a house nearby, which neighbours suspect to be a brothel. Could the man have come from there?
When LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis calls brilliant psychologist Alex Delaware is called to the scene, the case gets even more complicated. Delaware has met the woman before. She’s a psychologist too.
Are the two deaths linked? Or is there a darker force at work?
I was sent an ARC of City of the Dead by Publisher Cornerstone – I’ve been sent a few Kellerman books by the publisher now and I feel it’s made for a good match-up! They are books I have thoroughly enjoyed, every step of the way.
City of the Dead is the 37th book in the Alex Delaware series. Other than a bit of character history, these books can each be read as a standalone, each of the books has its own self-contained story so a new reader can join in at any time. This time, Alex Delaware accompanies his long-term friend and detective, Milo Sturgis to the latest crime scene – a hit and run accident where the victim happens to be naked and a frequent visitor to what, a neighbour assumes is a brothel. The plot thickens as a visit to the house provides more bodies and a familiar face.
The two main characters, Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis have been a staple of this series since the first book; they’re great friends and see the world, and therefore the cases they encounter, through different eyes. The chemistry between them is professional as much as it is companionable and reading about their escapades, how they go about solving problems, is enthralling. They are a captivating pair to read about which each brings something to the table. Alex Delaware is a child psychologist and works tirelessly to help the children in his care. Milo Sturgis is a dry-humoured, detective. Their differences set them apart, but make them enjoyable to read.
Kellerman is a highly-established writer but what I enjoy about his work is how easily conveyed it is. When he describes something, you get a real sense of reality from it. His descriptions are vivid. I know next to nothing about LA, where this series of books is set. Yet, after reading these books, I have a very strong impression of the place in my mind. It’s a tribute to the author that everything feels attention-grabbing and real. Not only this but we get a real feel of frustration when the case comes to a slow-down or the elation when a new clue is to be investigated.
The plot of City of the Dead, never lets up. The reader is thrown in at the deep end and it’s all action-filled, be it in suspense, mystery, drama, or physical action, until the very end. Much like his other books, it’s a thrill ride from start to finish. A narrative that skips jumps and hops to keep the reader guessing right until the last couple of pages. As with many of the books I have read recently, I didn’t have a clue as too who had caused these different murders, if they were linked together, how or why, and after reading a handful of Kellerman’s work, I can still see no patterns in writing to give me any clues as I go along!
One of the aspects of the novel, mainly through victim Cordelia Gannett, is rather topical – being an influencer and rising social media star. I always find popular culture references in novels fascinating; they do date a book, so if reading one that has them in from the 80’s or 90’s, they do then feel old. But reading about something in the current era gives a whole new layer of meaning to the character. It adds a level of realism, feeding back to the point of Kellerman’s attention to detail in his writing.
In previous books, I have commented about Alex Delaware being a bit over the top. He is a psychologist, not a police officer and he has sometimes come across as a bit of a perfect, goody-goody, going above and beyond the call of duty – I mean physically tackling suspects. So, to see him scaled back a bit here and leave the detectives and police officers to do the actual policing, felt a lot more realistic. It was a scoring point for the novel, even if it did make City of the Dead feel a bit more sedate in terms of Alex’s character.
Although I liked the majority of this book, there seemed to be a heavy reliance on coincidence when it came to the overall conclusion. I think I might have missed the trick when it came to the perpetrator’s motivations and, I’d have hoped, to have more psychological input from Dr. Delaware, considering that’s his profession. Like all Kellerman books, the resolution came swiftly and while it was a well-rounded and enjoyable read it did feel like the final screw of the cap was missing. I also felt that Robin, Alex’s partner (who is a successful, professional guitar repairer) was rather diminished to the role of doting housewife, which seemed somewhat out of character for her compared to other installments in the series.
A well-written, action-filled thriller. With enough mystery to keep the reader guessing. Strong characters that have a well-established history spanning 37 books, but require no additional reading as this is a well-rounded, complete book in its own right. A high level of expert description of both setting and emotion works a treat for understanding the main characters, but somehow leaves the side characters somewhat lacking.