Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tale of Two Brothers

Recurring characters by beloved authors are like a favorite sweater that we put on when we want something comforting and cozy.  Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis, the main characters of many of Jonathan Kellerman's novels, are old friends of mine.  Sensitive Alex and gruff Milo make a perfect pair as they travel around Los Angeles solving violent crimes.  So when I picked up the latest Jonathan Kellerman book, True Detectives, I was prepared to spend a few wonderful hours with a couple of old friends.

What I got instead was a couple of new friends-Moses Reed and Aaron Fox, half-brothers and long-time rivals.  Aaron, the biracial son of a black cop and white mother, becomes a smooth private investigator after a brief stint on the police force.  Moses, known as Moe, is the white son of Aaron's mother and her dead cop husband's best friend.  The brothers were introduced in Kellerman's 2008 book Bones, Moses as a young protege of gay police captain Milo Sturgis and Aaron as a PI helping them get information.  In this story, the brothers are drawn into the same case again.  Aaron is working for a Russian "entrepreneur" who is trying to help one of his employees find his daughter Caitlyn, who's disappeared suspiciously.  Moses gets assigned the girl's missing persons case, and despite the fact that it is going nowhere he doesn't feel like he can let it go.  The brothers inevitably collide during the investigation, and their natural resentment of and rivalry with each other threatens to derail both of them.  In the end, they are able to find a way to work together and bring a killer to justice.

I will admit to an initial disappointment when I started reading and realized that Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis were not the central characters of this book.  But I was soon intrigued by the brothers' backstory and by the mystery itself.  Kellerman's other gig is clinical psychiatrist, and you can tell-his characters have sophisticated relationships and motivations that make them feel very real.  As always the mystery part of the story was well laid out and interesting, but it is really the interplay between these two brothers that makes the novel.  Alex and Milo do make several appearances in the book, but really that felt like appeasement to me.  Kellerman's publishers probably suggested he throw his loyal readers a bone.  It didn't take away from the story, but it didn't exactly feel natural either.  Bottom line-Moe and Aaron don't need Kellerman's other characters to carry a story, they are plenty interesting on their own.

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