Compulsion is a fast-paced mystery, as I have come to expect from Jonathan Kellerman. It is the latest in the long-running mystery series involving Alex Delaware, a child psychologist, and Lieutenant Milo Sturgis of the LAPD. Kellerman’s forte is combining Milo’s grind-it-out work of interviews, surveillance, and background tracing with the psychological insights of Alex Delaware. It is an unusual pairing that works pretty well.
After a medical leave of absence, homicide detective Milo Sturgis is starting back slowly, working a
nine-year-old case about the disappearance of a 15-year-old. Then the pace picks up with the murder of a retired schoolteacher and the recovery of the body of a young woman. Milo calls on his friend Alex Delaware to sit in on interviewing witnesses to offer insight and also to talk over the cases, usually over a meal. Their discussions are the heart of the book. Here Milo comments on talking with the parents on the cold case: “Well, that was fun," said Milo, when we were alone in his office. “Now I got little fishhooks sticking into my heart and decent people tugging on them.” (pg 65)
Milo and Alex do their job almost too well. This mystery novel becomes more of a thriller as they hunt down their identified murder suspect. In a change from past mysteries in this series, Alex seems to be given more official approval,
even going to New York City on the LAPD expense account to talk with some people who
might have known the suspect. It is a tight and well-written novel; the characters, as well as locations, are described in great detail. Another side trip Alex takes is to
the small California town Ojo Negro is easy to visualize from Kellerman’s description of its isolation, boarded-up storefronts, and eccentric citizens:
"Bumping along a carelessly maintained road, I sped through a cottonwood grove that ended as abruptly as a Hollywood marriage. The view on both sides was straw-colored, waist-high wild grass and a scattering of gray, twisted tree trunks. To the north, the Santa Ynez range showed a bit of skin but kept its distance, like an ambivalent starlet. (pg 124)
Los Angeles still plays a major role in the story, and the fact that the story’s main characters are committed Los Angeles residents is never in any doubt.
I was expecting more insight and emotion from Alex Delaware in this latest book in the series,
but I did not really understand the underlying motivation of the identified suspect. The insights Alex gives to Milo in this case do not seem to be particularly profound but rather speculations anyone could make. This case, as Milo mentions, has “overtones”, which means it possibly involves individuals in the LBGT community. It has been a long time since Milo, an outed gay detective, has been given such a case. It's not clear to me if the author left the suspect’s motivations intentionally vague or not, maybe implying that this is not an area where Alex’s expertise lies. Also, it is only recently that Alex has gotten back together with his long-time girlfriend, Robin Castagna. She is very much secondary to the story, and the conversations between the two of them are pretty superficial and unemotional.
I recommend the book to long-time fans of Kellerman to see where he is taking the series. It is engrossing and a fun, relatively quick read.
Eenough background is given on the primary characters that it is possible to jump in and read this book on its own. However, if you are new to the series,
The Murder Book or Monster would a better introduction to the psychological mystery weaving that Kellerman can offer.