“The Wedding Guest” by Jonathan Kellerman, (Ballentine Books, 368 pages, $28.99)
Never crash a wedding and never do it in a Frendi red dress. And never do it anonymously in case you’re the intended murder victim.
Jonathan Kellerman’s 34th Alex Delaware novel is out, and Dr. Delaware, psychologist and freelance consultant to the LAPD, and Lt. Detective Milo Sturgis have not only a whodunnit to puzzle on, but a whoizzit, too. It’s a wedding reception, the line to the two stalls is long, and the very … anxious … bridesmaid remembers the upstairs bathroom. She sees a beautiful woman sitting on the toilet apparently asleep. When she tries to wake her the beautiful woman in a red Frendi dress slides to the floor, the red line of garrotting blossoms across her neck. The bridesmaid suddenly is no longer anxious. And no one knows who the dead woman is. No one even remembered seeing her.
Suspects seem many and too few. The groom’s side was barely represented at the wedding, and the bride’s side was overrepresented and seemed just a tad self-absorbed. Both sides present tantalizing possibilities to Milo and Alex, especially to Alex who sees a wealth of neuroses and tenable sociopathic tendencies among all the family members, especially the youngest sister of the groom. Paths open up and then dead end; no connections can be made anywhere - especially since no one knows the victim.
The only connection that won’t close is with Poland, and a series of similar murders.
But how can it be connected to anyone they’ve talked to? It is fugacious, appearing and disappearing on the periphery. No one they’ve talked to has ever been to Poland, and only a few have ever been out of the United States. “Detective work,” Alex, always the narrator, tells us while watching Milo work, “is like building a suspension bridge: No matter how precise the engineering or elegant the architecture, nothing matters until the last gap is closed.”
Finally luck, a name. Sort of. “This case is one step forward and one hundred thousand back!” Milo says to Alex in frustration. And then they learn of another similar death, which leads to another, and finally to the identity of the beautiful woman in the red Frendi. And still there’s nothing yet to connect any of these pieces.
As always Kellerman’s writing is succinct with a good turn of phrase or description. Alex and Milo are heading to a ritzy apartment building. Alex says there’s not “much foot traffic on the Corridor and walking in L.A. can generate suspicion if you don’t look like you belong. Milo had on one of his fossilized gray suites, a white wash-’n’-wear shirt, and a skinny brown tie. Respectable enough if you didn’t get too close. I’d thrown a blue blazer over a gray polo and jeans, which could mean anything from tourist to movie mogul.”
This particular story is much more Alex and his insights than Milo. Typically they’re about even, but always with Alex the much more cerebral and Milo a bull looking to charge in. But like all his Alex Delaware novels, the yearn is good and absorbing, pulling in the reader, a reluctance to put down. Kellerman keeps the plot flowing at a great pace. The cast of characters could walk off the page, from Milo’s “cadre” of detectives to the newest part-time pathologist, all colorful, the dialogue brisk and perfect.
Of course the murderer is found out - along with the connection to Poland (not a spoiler, I think). Milo’s solve rate remains high, Alex again was his Boswell, and Los Angeles is safe from one more serial killer.
J. Reed Anderson is the General Manager of the Devils Lake Journal, Devils Lake, ND. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.