Publisher: Century (Trade Paperback – 28 February 2023)
Series: Alex Delaware – Book 38
Length: 303 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
A shocking murder, a mysterious motive, and two intriguing investigators on the case, it sounds like it’s time for another Alex Delaware novel from bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman with Unnatural History.
For the last few years one of my favourite long-running crime fiction series has to be the Alex Delaware books from the always impressive Jonathan Kellerman. Set in Los Angeles, this excellent series follows the exploits of psychologist Alex Delaware and his best friend, Lieutenant Milo Sturgis, as they investigate strange murders throughout the city. This is a very solid and captivating series, and I personally love all the clever and distinctive mysteries that Kellerman keeps coming up with. All the Alex Delaware novels I have so far read, including The Wedding Guest, The Museum of Desire, Serpentine and City of Dead, have been just outstanding, and the complex and fascinating murder investigations have all been very strongly written and particularly compelling to follow. As such, the Alex Delaware books are one series that I will always make sure to grab as soon as it is out, and this includes the latest entry, Unnatural History. The 38th book in this long-running series, Unnatural History was another exceptional read with a fantastic case behind it.
When the body of a photographer is found murdered in his studio, brutally shot to death, Lieutenant Milo Sturgis is quick to bring in his friend and consultant, psychologist Alex Delaware, to help with the investigation. The victim, Donny Klement, was a controversial photographer whose latest project saw him photographing members of the local homeless population as they pretend to achieve their greatest dreams. To complicate matters even further, Donny was the son a mysterious and elusive billionaire whose family members have a habit of dying young.
Diving into the case, Alex and Milo soon discover that their victim was a curious figure. Damaged by a neglectful father, a scattered family, and a dead mother, Donny’s life was anything but easy, even with his vast family fortune. His latest photographic vision looked set to make him a major star in the arts scene, but was his death related to his seemingly disrespectful photos or to his family and their wealth?
As Alex and Milo attempt to find a motive for Donny’s killing, a second body is found that appears connected to their first case, suggesting that their killer is taking out all the potential witnesses. It soon becomes apparent that Alex and Milo are dealing with a deranged serial killer whose anger lies somewhere in Donny’s life. To solve the case, Alex and Milo need to uncover all the victim’s secrets and use them to catch the killer before he strikes again.
This was another excellent and captivating novel from Kellerman, who presents the reader with an impressive and well-set-out mystery that really draws you in and keeps you hooked. Like most of the Alex Delaware novels, Unnatural History quickly works to set the scene for the case, with the reader immediately introduced to the murder victim, Donny Klement, and his unfortunate circumstances. The story moves into the investigative stage with Alex and Milo beginning the task of identifying the relevant people associated with Donny’s life, including his family, his girlfriend, and the people he interacted through with through his photography. This raises quite a few interesting avenues of inquiry as the victim was both the scion of a mysterious billionaire whose family has already suffered multiple deaths, and an idealistic artist who showed great naivety in dealing with the city’s homeless population. This leads to quite a deep dive into the victim’s life, and you soon build up a quite an intensive view at who Donny was and the many problems he faced in life.
Kellerman keeps the investigation going strong the entire way through Unnatural History, and the reader is directed along many interesting plot threads as the author lays down false trails and red herrings. There are some great alternative theories and potential motives spread out for much of the book, and the case gets even more complicated when additional bodies are found throughout the city, all of them connected to Donny in some way. This really throttles up the pacing of the book, and the reader is gifted with some intriguing revelations as Kellerman revisits details that previously seemed unimportant and cleverly fits them even further into his case. The eventual reveal about the killer is pretty brilliant, and I liked how Kellerman was able to tie the motivation into several existing different story threads, which allowed for a complex and intense picture of who they are and what evils they committed. This ended up being a very strong mystery, and I honestly did not see the full extent of the motivations coming. Everything leads up to a big confrontation which doesn’t go how you’d expect, and which results in some very dark moments. I did like how this confrontation revisited events from several books ago and it helped some of the characters gain a measure of closure. I ended up being really impressed with how the author managed to bring everything together in his story, and I was firmly hooked the entire way through.
As always, I really enjoy Kellerman’s unique style when it comes to his compelling murder mysteries, and this helped me power through Unnatural History. I love the sharp pacing and focus on the characters, both the protagonists, and the victim, that occurred throughout Unnatural History and you are swiftly drawn into their unique lives and the process of their investigation. The blend of solid investigative focus, character moments, and major twists is pretty spot on, and there honestly aren’t any slow moments at any point of this book, as the reader is constantly learning more interesting bits of information about the case. All his characters have a very distinctive way of talking/interacting with each other, and it is something that always drags me in, especially with the fun banter. I did find a few of these conversations, especially with deliberately annoying witnesses, to be a little odd, but they all added to the general theme and feel of the book. Like all the Alex Delaware novels, Unnatural History is fairly accessible to new readers, and anyone interested in this book who hasn’t read anything from Kellerman can easily dive in here without any issues. While there are references to prior events scattered throughout Unnatural History, none of them are too relevant to the plot, and Kellerman always does a good job of making his novels almost feel standalone in nature, as he recaptures the series’ unique feel each time. That being said, fans of some of his last few books will no doubt enjoy some of the story elements between Alex and one of the supporting characters that come full circle after several books, and it was something I was very happy to see.
One of the things that I always particularly enjoyed about the Alex Delaware novels is the way that Kellerman presents a more grounded style when it comes to how his detectives solve the crime. Unlike in some of the flashier crime fiction novels out there, Kellerman’s characters are more realistic in their investigative approach, and each Alex Delaware novel has a major focus on talking to witnesses, doing research, hammering out theories and doing the legwork to find out everything you can about the victim and the various suspects. The protagonists are constantly following up leads and talking to multiple people associated with the case, even if they only tangentially knew the victim, to find out every fact or theory that they can. This leads to a much more comprehensive examination of the murder, which allows the reader to build up a captivating picture of everything that led up to the killing. This more methodical and realistic method of investigation always really works for me, and I love seeing the protagonists earning their solve and battling through all manner of obstacles. I felt that the investigation in Unnatural History was particularly good, especially when they combine multiple cases from across the city to get the full picture, and the way that they efficiently weed out the unlikely scenarios and find the truth was deeply addictive and really worth checking out.
I also need to highlight the impressive characters who are the focus of Unnatural History, especially when it comes to the two protagonists, Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis. These two protagonists, the calm psychologist and the veteran detective, complement each other perfectly when it comes to their skill set, and you can see why they are such an effective team. At the same time, Kellerman has really built up their relationship over the series, so the two are good friends, which results in some fantastic dynamics and interactions between the two. The banter and discussions fly thick and fast between them, and you really appreciate just how close they are as they solve the crimes together. There is a pretty major moment that occurs between these friends at the end of Unnatural History that I felt was handled extremely well and which is likely to impact their dynamic going forward. I am very intrigued to see how Kellerman handles that, and I am sure it will make his next novel even more interesting.
The other character that gets quite a lot of focus in Unnatural History is the main murder victim, Donny Klement. As with most of Alex Delaware novels, Kellerman’s ensures that the story spends substantial time diving into the victim’s life, as the police try to find out why he is murdered. This allows the reader to get a fascinating, outsiders perspective of who Donny was, which proves to be quite fascinating and compelling. Kellerman’s portrayal of Donny as a lonely man trying to escape his father’s shadow while also dealing with other family trauma allows the reader to get very attached to the victim and you become even more invested in solving the case. This post-mortem portrayal of Donny was excellent, and I loved how effectively Kellerman showed his complex and unusual life. Throw in a very fascinating and complex murderer, a good collection of unique witnesses, and the usual supporting detectives in Milo’s squad, and Unnatural History has a great collection of characters who add a lot to the overall story.
Jonathan Kellerman once again delivers an amazing and compelling murder mystery with his latest Alex Delaware novel, Unnatural History. This fantastic novel features another brilliant mystery that dives deep into the life of a complex victim and paints a powerful picture around him. This was a deeply entertaining and captivating read, and I loved every second I spent getting through Unnatural History. I cannot wait to see what happens next in the Alex Delaware series, one of the strongest, long-running crime fiction series currently out there.
2 thoughts on “Unnatural History by Jonathan Kellerman”
Pingback: Canberra Weekly Column – Mixed Genre – 23 March 2023 – The Unseen Library
Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday – My Top Reads From 2023 Quarter One – The Unseen Library