Publisher: Century (Trade Paperback – 15 February 2022)
Series: Alex Delaware – Book 37
Length: 319 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Prepare to dive back into the excellent world of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series with the latest fantastic entry, City of the Dead.
There are some awesome crime fiction authors out there now who have some brilliant long-running series, but one I have been particularly drawn to is bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman. Kellerman, who debuted in 1985, is an impressive murder mystery author who is best known for his Alex Delaware books. This fantastic series follows titular protagonist psychologist Alex Delaware as he helps his police detective best friend solve some of the strangest or disturbing murders throughout Los Angeles. I started reading this book a few years ago and have had an excellent time with the last three entries, The Wedding Guest, The Museum of Desire and Serpentine, all of which had an impressive and clever murder mystery narratives. As such, I made a real effort to grab City of the Dead when it came out as I knew I was going to have a great time with it. City of the Dead is the 37th Alex Delaware book and features another twisty and powerful mystery.
On a dark LA early morning, a moving truck runs over a naked body on the street. As the police investigate this tragic accident, they discover a blood trail, which leads them to a nearby house, where the body of a murdered female is found. Finding many of the details of this case to be unusual, LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis once again brings in his friend, psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, to consult. While the identity of the naked male out on the street is unknown, Alex is shocked to discover that he knows the female victim from one of his custody cases.
The victim, Cordelia “Cordi” Gannett, was a fraudulent mental health practitioner who specialised in manipulating the vulnerable for her own advantage. Concerned that her deceptive practices may have led to her death, Alex and Milo examine her past to try and discover who killed her. But as they dig into her intriguing life, Alex and Milo quickly discover that their victim had a troubled past, filled with mistakes, betrayals and bad influences. But the more they uncover, the more they begin to question everything they think they knew about this terrible murder. Was Cordi the dangerous manipulator everyone believes, or was she something far more vulnerable? And what role, if any, did the dead man on the street play in her death? A dangerous and disturbed murderer lies behind this crime, and their reasons for killing will shock even the hardened team of Alex and Milo.
Kellerman has done it again, producing an excellent and compelling murder investigation that will quickly hook you and take you to some dark places. I loved the brilliant narrative of City of the Dead, which combines a complex mystery with interesting characters and the author’s unique style and perspective. The author sets the start the story perfectly, with a couple of bodies discovered in unique positions that immediately grabs the reader’s attention. This interest is intensified once the connection between Delaware and the victim are established, which also reveals the victim’s scandalous past. From there the story continues at a slower pace, with Alex and Milo carefully building their case and their profile of the victim through intriguing interactions with various people with connections to the victim and her past. This helps to set the scene for the rest of the novel, and the reader gets to see how all the details of this case are collected and pulled together. The plot picks up a notch about halfway through when certain interesting developments to key suspects occur, producing extra complexity to the case, although I question the use of a couple of outrageous figures around this point. From there the story reaches its zenith, as the protagonists get closer to their answers and a big reveal comes to light. I really liked the twist towards the end, although it did kind of come out of nowhere and relied a little too much on coincidence. However, I was very impressed by how Kellerman set up the big reveal from the very beginning of the book, especially as it helped to soften the randomness factor of the sudden reveal. The entire motivation behind the killings was pretty bonkers (in a good way), and I loved how dark the story got, as well as the intriguing connections to the protagonist’s psychology background. While I did think the story ended a tad too abruptly after this reveal, this was still a great story and I honestly could not put this down once I started.
Kellerman has a great writing style which I think complemented this fantastic narrative perfectly. There is a really unique feel to each of his novels, especially as the characters have a distinctive way of interacting and talking, which I feel is a little more natural, even if they sometimes go off on some odd tangents. I definitely liked Kellerman’s sense of pacing, and he strings this story our extremely well, with the slower, investigative side of the narrative perfectly balanced with the more intense and powerful moments. The author hits all the right notes when it came to timing and fun reveals, with every great scene or unique character receiving a great introduction that brings the reader in. Like all of Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels, I found City of the Dead to be extremely inclusive to new readers, and the reader does an excellent job of re-introducing the recurring characters, plot threads and dynamics. City of the Dead can easily be read as a standalone novel, and people with no pre-knowledge of the series can jump in here without any problems. I had a great time getting through this impressive story and I ended up powering through the last 200 pages in less than a day, especially after I got really invested in the outstanding mystery.
One of the main things that I love about the Alex Delaware novels is the grounded and realistic approach that Kellerman takes to investigating a murder. The characters investigate each case, including the one in City of the Dead, with a very methodical style, assessing the facts and slowly building up the case one fact at a time. There is a particular focus on interviews and research, with the characters talking to multiple people who might know something to gain insight into the victims or potential suspects, while also diving into their past anyway they can. This, combined with other real-life details such as delayed lab results or overworked cops and technicians, makes for a much more accurate portrayal of a murder investigation. I personally love this style of mystery solving, and it helps to give City of the Dead a much more unique feel than some other murder mysteries out there. I will say that some of the jumps were a bit over-the-top in places, and certain key revelations are only gained due to coincidental interactions outside of the main investigation. Still, this is a great crime fiction story and I have a lot of fun with how a typical Kellerman investigation unfolds.
The final thing I need to discuss are the great characters of City of Dead, especially the two protagonists, Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis. By this point at the series, Kellerman has established an excellent dynamic between these two characters, and the brilliant psychologist and the seasoned police detective play off each other perfectly. You can really sense the close friendship they have, and their excellent and distinctive back-and-forth banter is very entertaining. Pretty much any story involving this partnership really works, and I have a lot of fun with this great team. I also was quite impressed with the unique character of Cordi, the main victim of the story. While we never see the character when she’s alive, Kellerman does a deep dive into her past and personality throughout the course of the novel as the two protagonists attempt to find out everything about her. While you initially form a negative opinion of Cordi (even though she’s a murder victim), Kellerman successfully builds some nuance around her as the investigation continues. The resultant picture, of a neglected and damaged person who is determined to never be poor or mistreated again, is very moving, especially as it speaks to some of her notable character choices and mistakes. This makes for a very striking and compelling figure, and it is fascinating how much you become invested in finding her killer. The killer was also an interesting choice from Kellerman, and while I won’t reveal too much here, I liked how they connected into the narrative, and I had a lot of fun when their motivations were revealed. An excellent group of characters who enhance a compelling and exciting narrative.
With this latest amazing novel, City of the Dead, Jonathan Kellerman continues to shine as one of the more interesting crime fiction authors currently writing. This fantastic novel brilliantly continues the long-running Alex Delaware series and presents the reader with an entertaining and thought-provoking murder mystery narrative. Filled with a great story, some excellent investigation elements and a fantastic cast, City of the Dead was an impressive and addictive read that comes highly recommended, especially to fans of the iconic Jonathan Kellerman.