Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 2 February 2021)
Series: Alex Delaware – Book 36
Length: 12 hours and 10 minutes
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One of the leading stars of the murder mystery genre, Jonathan Kellerman, returns with the latest entry in his long-running Alex Delaware series, Serpentine.
For years LAPD detective Lieutenant Milo Sturgis has tended to do things his own way in the department. Thanks to his impressive solve rate and his unique and successful partnership with his best friend, psychologist Alex Delaware, Milo has been able to crack some of the toughest murder cases that the department has come up across while managing to avoid the lows of office politics. However, not even Milo is able to withstand pressure from the very top of the LAPD, so when an extremely wealthy businesswoman wants help from the department’s best, Milo is forced to work an impossible case.
The businesswoman, young entrepreneur Eleanor Barker, wants closure over the death of her mother, a mysterious woman who was found dead decades ago in a torched Cadillac with a bullet in her head. Despite their reservations over the way the case was assigned to them, Milo is determined to do the best job possible, and with Alex’s help he begins his investigation. However, with no evidence, no case file, no witnesses and no real idea about their victim’s past or origins, their chances of success seem slim.
Forced to look for answers in some unusual places, Milo and Alex are slowly able to pull together a picture of the events surrounding the death of Eleanor’s mother. However, the more they dig, the more unusual coincidences begin to arise as what they discover deviates massively from the established facts. It soon becomes apparent that there is far more to this case than was initially believed and that someone out there is determined to stop any investigation into this brutal murder. Can Milo and Alex solve their most difficult case yet, or will a cunning killer continue to remain free?
Well, that was a pretty cool murder mystery! Serpentine is the 36th entry in Jonathan Kellerman’s amazing Alex Delaware series, which has been running since 1985. I am a relative newcomer to Kellerman’s work, having only stumbled onto series when I read his 34th book, The Wedding Guest, back in 2019. I had an excellent time reading The Wedding Guest and the loved the authors distinctive writing style and ability to weave together a great mystery. I enjoyed it so much I ended up checking out Kellerman’s next book, the 2020 release The Museum of Desire, which contained an impressive murder case and ended up being another amazing read. As a result, I have been very keen to check out Kellerman’s latest book for a while now and I have to say that I was very pleased with how awesome Serpentine turned out to be.
I ended up absolutely powering through this latest Alex Delaware novel, especially once I got hooked on its exceptional and impressive murder mystery narrative. Kellerman came up with an amazing narrative for this novel that proved to be particularly captivating right off the bat as his two established protagonists become embroiled in a seemingly impossible-to-solve case. Forced to dig around in the past, the protagonists slowly determine the events surrounding the old murder via odd bits of evidence and a range of interesting witnesses. While the investigative process is quite fun to see, Kellerman has also thrown a ton of fantastic twists into the story, ensuring that the reader has no idea how the mystery is going to unfold. I love some of the unique directions that the author took this compelling case and I was impressed with some of the clever reveals that he chucked in, especially as they were set up beautifully and added some fantastic surprises to the plot. While I did think that the book concluded rather rapidly and some storylines could have been wrapped up a little better, this was still an exceptional narrative which I deeply enjoyed.
Easily my favourite thing about the Alex Delaware novels is the great way that the author portrays the ongoing investigation. Kellerman always ensures that his investigations extremely realistic and as a result his protagonists always engage in a methodical examination of the sources, slowly gaining the information they need and building up connections and discovering any inconsistencies. A lot of their evidence is obtained through discussions with potential witnesses, colleagues and experts, and there may be multiple conversations with various persons of interest to find out different nuggets of information. This then results in the main characters throwing out theories about what potentially happened and basing their future investigative directions on the most promising clues. This manner of investigation proves to be very different to other crime fiction novels I have read, and I really enjoy this more realistic portrayal of how police could solve a difficult case, especially as the author works in time delays for evidence analysis, unreliable witnesses and colleagues, and lack of resources. I particularly enjoyed the investigation featured within Serpentine as it forces the protagonists to solve a murder that occurred over 30 years previously. As a result, the characters lack any sort of evidence, useful witnesses, or previous investigations to help them find the killer, and they are forced to utilise more creative methods to find information or track down anyone who has the slightest idea of who the victim was or what happened to them. This extremely cold case was a fantastic part of Serpentine’s plot and it proved to be deeply fascinating to see how he envisioned detectives solving this sort of investigation. I loved this realistic and methodical portrayal of a murder investigation and it really made Serpentine stand out as a fantastic crime fiction novel.
I also must highlight the outstanding two lead characters who form the heart of Serpentine, and indeed the entire series, titular protagonist Alex Delaware and LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. Alex and Milo are a fantastic pair of crime-fighting protagonists who have taken on some extremely tricky murders during their partnership. Both characters bring a lot to the novel. Alex is the more serious of the two. As a clinical child psychologist with a head for mysteries, Alex can provide some intriguing insights into the minds of the victims, witnesses, and potential suspects, which provide new insight into their cases. Milo on the other hand is the food-loving, cynical veteran cop who works the hard grind of a LAPD detective. While I enjoy both characters, Milo is easily my favourite due to his constant wise cracks, the author’s tasteful portrayal of the character as a homosexual LAPD lieutenant, and his somewhat maverick cop persona. Alex is also quite fun, especially as his psychological insights have a basis in the author’s own training as a psychologist, and I liked his constant clever quips about the situations they encounter. The real joy of these two characters, however, is the way they work together. These two make an amazing team, especially as they have become close best friends who are able to work together perfectly in sync. I loved the way these two were able to work together to solve crimes, and their innate teamwork and friendship is a fantastic centre of the book’s story. I also enjoyed the way the two characters play off each other throughout the story, as their personalities and unique sense of humour really gel together well and produce a lot of fun jokes and moments. Overall, I had an amazing time following Alex and Milo through another excellent book, and I cannot wait to see what crazy case they encounter next time.
To check out Serpentine I grabbed a copy of its audiobook format, which was narrated by John Rubinstein. This audiobook, which has a run time of just over 12 hours, ended up being an amazing way to enjoy this fantastic book and I powered through it in no time at all, especially once I got caught up in the outstanding mystery. Rubinstein, whose has previously lent his voice to a great collection of crime fiction novels, including previous Alex Delaware audiobooks, did an outstanding job narrating this novel, and I felt that he moved the story along at a fast and enjoyable pace which really captured the audience’s attention. I also rather enjoyed the various voices that he utilised throughout Serpentine, as each character was given their own unique voice, which I felt fit their respective personality perfectly. I really loved the voice that Rubinstein uses for Milo in particular, as it just screams veteran cop, and it really helped enhance how much I enjoyed this already awesome character. As a result, I would strongly recommended Serpentine’s audiobook to anyone interested in checking out this book and listeners are in for a good time with this format.
Serpentine by Jonathan Kellerman is another impressive and clever addition to the great Alex Delaware series. This latest book features a complex and captivating murder mystery investigation which forces Kellerman’s fantastic and lovable protagonists to dive back into the past and solve an intriguing cold case. Full of several outstanding twists around Kellerman’s latest compelling case, Serpentine has an incredible story and readers are going to have an amazing time unwinding this great mystery. I deeply enjoyed this fantastic novel, and this might be the best Alex Delaware novel I have read so far. Highly recommended.