Who killed the killer? In his brilliant and startling new novel, Jonathan Kellerman, perennial bestselling author and premier proprietor of the psychological thriller, gives a sharp and timely twist to homicide's central question.
Someone has murdered euthanasia champion Dr. Eldon Mate--a self-styled Dr. Death responsible for scores of assisted suicides. In a burst of bloody irony, the killer chooses to dispatch the doctor in the back of Mate's own suicide van, hooking him up to the killing apparatus dubbed "the Humanitron"--and adding some butchering touches of his own. The case is assigned to veteran LAPD homicide detective Milo Sturgis, who turns, once again, to his friend Dr. Alex Delaware. But working this case raises a conflict of interest for Alex so profound that he can't even discuss it with Milo. The tension that develops between cop and psychologist further complicates an already baffling and complex murder investigation--one whose suspects include the families of Dr. Mate's "travelers," Mate's own son, and a psychopathic killer who relishes the geometry of death.
Dr. Death is a rich brew of unforgettable characters, labyrinthine plotting, page-turning prose, and the unique insights into the darkest corners of the human mind that have earned Jonathan Kellerman international accolades as the master of psychological suspense.
A series of well-publicized gentle deaths are the work of self-appointed angel of mercy Dr. Eldon Mate, who attends to the terminally ill in cheap hotel rooms or in the back of his van. Now Mate himself is dead, carved up and found by two joggers and their dog on a high road above Los Angeles. Like Kellerman's previous bestsellers, this title features psychologist Alex Delaware, whose self-righteous pomposity blends neatly, as it has before, into a narrative liberally dosed with psycho-angles and agreeably warped murder motives. This time out, Delaware works with cop Milo Sturgis and counsels Stacy and Eric Doss, two teenage children getting over their mother Joanne's death, which Dr. Mate seemingly helped to hasten. In his dual role, Delaware encounters a rogue FBI agent tracking a killer obsessed with Mate; Mate's disturbed son; and Richard Doss, the kids' father, who by slipping cash to a shady character in a dark bar is marked as a prime murder suspect. Joanne's illness too proves mysterious. But Kellerman isn't in top form here. Most annoyingly, the FBI guy does the bulk of the sleuthing legwork, while Delaware spends much of the book either making love or pontificating on motivations for characters all very similarly flawed. The ending is agreeably tricky, but by then great gobs of Delaware have either delighted Kellerman's faithful or else turned readers' stomachs in a way that serial deaths, gentle or otherwise, may have somehow failed to do. Kellerman's rep and the book's strong, geometric cover will send this one on to the lists. (Dec. 5)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 21, 2003
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Excerpt from Dr. Death by Jonathan Kellerman
Irony can be a rich dessert, so when the contents of the van were
publicized, some people gorged. The ones who'd believed Eldon H. Mate to be
the Angel of Death.
Those who'd considered him Mercy Personified grieved.
I viewed it through a different lens, had my own worries.
Mate was murdered in the very early hours of a sour-smelling, fog-laden
Monday in September. No earthquakes or wars interceded by sundown, so the
death merited a lead story on the evening news. Newspaper headlines in the
Times and the Daily News followed on Tuesday. TV dropped the story within
twenty-four hours, but recaps ran in the Wednesday papers. In total, four
days of coverage, the maximum in short-attention-span L.A. unless the corpse
is that of a princess or the killer can afford lawyers who yearn for Oscars.
No easy solve on this one; no breaks of any kind. Milo had been doing his
job long enough not to expect otherwise.
He'd had an easy summer, catching a quartet of lovingly stupid homicides
during July and August--one domestic violence taken to the horrible extreme
and three brain-dead drunks shooting other inebriates in squalid Westside
bars. Four murderers hanging around long enough to be caught. It kept his
solve rate high, made it a bit--but not much--easier to be the only openly
gay detective in LAPD.
"Knew I was due," he said. It was the Sunday after the murder when he phoned
me at the house. Mate's corpse had been cold for six days and the press had
That suited Milo just fine. Like any artist, he craved solitude. He'd played
his part by not giving the press anything to work with. Orders from the
brass. One thing he and the brass could agree on: reporters were almost
always the enemy.
What the papers HAD printed was squeezed out of clip-file biographies, the
inevitable ethical debates, old photos, old quotes. Beyond the fact that
Mate had been hooked up to his own killing machine, only the sketchiest
details had been released:
Van parked on a remote section of Mulholland Drive, discovery by hikers just
DR. DEATH MURDERED.
I knew more because Milo told me.
The call came in at 8 P.M., just as Robin and I had finished dinner. I was
out the door, holding on to the straining leash of Spike, our little French
bulldog. Pooch and I both looking forward to a night walk up the glen. Spike
loved the dark because pointing at scurrying sounds let him pretend he was a
noble hunter. I enjoyed getting out because I worked with people all day and
solitude was always welcome.
Robin answered the phone, caught me in time, ended up doing dog-duty as I
returned to my study.
"Mate's yours?" I said, surprised because he hadn't told me sooner. Suddenly
edgy because that added a whole new layer of complexity to my week.
"Who else merits such blessing?"
I laughed softly, feeling my shoulders humping, rings of tension around my
neck. The moment I'd heard about Mate I'd worried. Deliberated for a long
time, finally made a call that hadn't been returned. I'd dropped the issue
because there'd been no good reason not to. It really WASN'T any of my
business. Now, with Milo involved, all that had changed.
I kept the worries to myself. His call had nothing to do with my problem.
Coincidence--one of those nasty little overlaps. Or maybe there really are
only a hundred people in the world.
His reason for getting in touch was simple: the dreaded W word: whodunit. A
case with enough psychopathology to make me potentially useful.
Also I was his friend, one of the few people left in whom he could confide.
The psychopathology part was fine with me. What bothered me was the
friendship component. Things I knew but didn't tell him. COULDN'T tell him.