The Kellermans should make an unbeatable crime writing team. They are both successful authors in their own right with series that are universally popular with crime enthusiasts. Indeed, the two novellas contained in this volume written by the duo contain good, solid crime writing which will appeal to many readers - though I cannot help but be a little disappointed that the stories did not completely explode off the page and leave me breathless and wanting more.
The first novella, My Sister’s Keeper centers on the murder of Davida Grayson, a lesbian state representative determined that stem cell research come to pass, motivated by the death of her sister, which one imagines is where the title, otherwise bewildering considering the plot, comes from.
Davida has many enemies and is constantly egged by opponents, but no one expects her to be murdered sitting at her desk as she works late into the night, dedicated to her vocation as she is. Detectives Will Barnes and Amanda Isis must find out who killed her. As they dig for information, they find that her personal life and the secrets she kept may hold the key to finding her killer, rather than the passionate and sometimes fanatical political world she was involved in.
The story features a cameo from Faye’s well-known detective Peter Decker, and the cast of characters is somewhat perplexing. Isis has married well and is incredibly wealthy; we do not really get a sense of who she is or why she does what she does. We just wonder why on earth she continues to be a cop.
Barnes is different: he is real, funny and struggling with himself, his age, where he comes from and life in general. I like him, and I can see him as the protagonist of his own series. The usual problem I find with novellas or short stories is that space often does not permit for information to get to know the characters well. Authors have to be able to tell their readers a mountain of information just with a sentence, and we learn a lot about Barnes through seemingly innocuous circumstances and details.
In fact, the fleshing out of the characters in such a small space impressed me, as did the fact that there are a number of suspects, though not overwhelmingly so. The Kellermans know how to use space to brilliant effect.
The fly in the ointment is that, apart from Barnes, I found the characters rather dull. We get a glimpse of Davida from her perspective as the story opens, but it is a poor glimpse. As we find out more about her after her death, it would appear the poor girl was not nearly as bright or brilliant as we are led to believe.
Other characters totally annoy, such as Davida’s overbearing mother and her drunken, selfish girlfriend.
Yet overall the story is well written. It is suspenseful, and the mystery element of the plot plays out well. You may guess whodunit before the end, but the unraveling is still worth the wait even if the story seems to end rather abruptly.
The second novella, Music City Breakdown, is in a totally different vein. The cops are obnoxious and burnt out, and the tone is gritty with more bite than the first novella. It appears the Kellermans try to give more heart to the second story. The tale of a music has-been, Jack Jeffries, trying to make a comeback and change his life only to be murdered on a trip to Nashville tries to be sentimental. The reader gets the idea very early on that there is something musical in the past of both the lead detectives, and country and western songs about trying to make it and the ensuing disappointment and bitterness start playing in the reader’s heads.
The two lead detectives are neither very interesting nor engaging; try as I might, I cannot think of something to say about them. They seem to take the basic amount of interest necessary in the victim as they try and find out who would want to kill an old music star who seemingly had no enemies. Again, the characters are not all that likeable, and the plot plods along with no real surprises or suspenseful moments.
Highlights are the scenes where Jonathan Kellerman’s protagonist Alex Delaware appears, as he was Jeffries’ psychologist so the police ask many questions. Delaware is knowledgeable, charming and easy to listen to – perhaps the reason why he has his own series - and the two cops in this story are allowed to relive the ‘what if’ nature of the music business while trying to stay focused on the job at hand, through the pages of a novella only. Again the end and resolution come rather abruptly and far too easily.
The result is a mixed bag, two stories deliberately styled in different veins. If you are a sucker for sentimentality, try the second story; if you like a good strong lead detective, try the first. If you are a Kellerman, fan then you will appreciate the good, sharp writing but may be disappointed in the effort as a whole. This is no Peter Decker or Alex Delaware, so don’t expect the same punch or thrills.
Jonathan Kellerman is a New York Times bestselling author. He has expertise as a clinical psychologist, which he brings to the widely popular Alex Delaware novels. He has won the Goldwyn, Edgar, and Anthony awards, and has been nominated for a Shamus Award.
Faye Kellerman is the New York Times bestselling author of the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels, as well as other works She has won the Macavity Award and has been nominated for a Shamus.
[Author websites: www.jonathankellerman.com and www.fayekellerman.net]