Motive
A novel by Jonathan Kellerman
Book review by Jules Brenner
Ballantine Books, released 2/10/15, 352 pp., $28.00
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As any of his fans know, since 2004 Jonathan Kellerman has been using one word titles for his mystery thrillers ("Killer," "Guilt," "Victims") which feature one of the more unique teams of crime busters in the genre: Psychologist Dr Alex Delaware and LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. While the word "Motive" is, of course, well suited to the context, when I first saw the title I couldn't help thinking Kellerman might have picked it up from the successful TV series of the same name. Probably not.


Still... when I began reading it I confess I was looking for an unmistakeable connection in the narrative to what the word suggests. And, you know what? I didn't find any, apart from the generality that any crime investigation centers on the criminal's motive. Without that, try proving the case in court.

That said, Kellerman seems to be looking for some originality in his major series of books. I infer this from the fact that he has Sturgis sitting on a vexing case about the strangulation and stabbing of Katherine Hennepin in her home without consulting Delaware for the psychiatric angle that has helped him solve cases time and time again.

When his chief suspect alibies up, the gruff lawman regrets his omission and turns up at best buddy and oft-hired partner Delaware with his tail between his legs and catches the doc up the case and its details.

This relationship, which makes a lot of senpe in the pursuit of clever criminals, is the basis of the author's enviable success resting, perhaps, on his training as a doctoral Fellow in Psychology and Human Development. With his awards in writing, as well, this guy's got the creds.

By the time the second and third body turns up in varying degrees of staged crime scenes, Milo's really glad he had the temerity to confess his shortcoming to his best pal. The suspects are aplenty but so are the false leads, keeping them and us guessing as the trail gets knotted and discouraging.

Delaware's live-in romantic partner Robin is seen and heard enough to give the central character another voice to ping his thoughts off; but she's more in the background than usual, which isn't a bad thing, the lust and anxiety level of the relationship having settled into the home life comforts that don't much enter into enhancing the drama.

Frankly, I think the scenario is a bit much in the red herring department and I'd like to see the author tone his character list down a bit while kicking the plausible cleverness up for his next book. The sharp edge he started with is draining some tension out of the suspense here, making us wish for that solution that rests on the sheer brilliance of his hero in taking down an almost equally talented mastermind behind the gruesome list of crimes.

And, BTW, I'm hoping for a season renewal of TV's "Motive." Cleverly written and a no-nonsense babe adding up the clues.

If you don't yet own Motive and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.