Book review: Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Murderous mind games are what Alex Delaware does best.

Wednesday, 10th April 2013, 10:00 am

As a brilliant psychologist and ‘Crime Reader’ for Los Angeles Police Department, he is used to peering into the darkest corners of the human soul. So who better to search out the truth behind the disturbing discovery of dead babies?

Best-selling author of over 30 top-class novels and himself a former clinical psychologist, Jonathan Kellerman returns with another chapter of his hard-hitting ‘Crime Reader’ series in which Delaware and his cynical sidekick Lieutenant Milo Sturgis face one of their most fanatical and deranged killers yet.

With his razor-sharp brain, gift for pithy dialogue and ability to home in on the criminal mind, Kellerman’s deep, dark books have built up a huge fan base. His trusty trademarks are style, intelligence, logic and humanity, and a knack for telling a story through a sequence of addictively descriptive word ‘pictures’ which set the scene and render reading pauses virtually impossible!

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When young couple Matt Ruche and his pregnant wife Holly take possession of their dream home in the Cheviot Hills area of Los Angeles, they can’t wait to renovate the mansion which is suffering from decades of neglect.

What they hadn’t reckoned on was the gruesome package buried in their garden. Swaddled in 60-year-old sheets of newspaper inside a rusted metal strongbox is the skeleton of a baby, not a newborn but one that had lived for several months.

The case hits the media and theories abound. The most likely culprit is a mysterious woman, employed as private nurse to wealthy L.A. families during the Second World War, and Milo calls in Alex to give insight into the perpetrator’s motives.

But before Alex can properly get to work on the case, a young woman is found in a park near the Ruches’ home. She has been shot in the head at close range in an execution-style killing, but even more chilling is the discovery in the same park of another baby’s skeleton... and this one died more recently, its bones scrubbed clean and polished.

As Milo and Alex delve into the past, they stir up tales of a beautiful nurse with a mystery lover, a handsome, wealthy doctor who seems too good to be true, and a hospital with a notorious reputation.

The problem is that all of them are long gone, along with any records of newborn babies, until the spectre of fame rears its head and the case unexpectedly twists in the direction of the highest echelons of celebrity privilege.

Entering this protected world, Alex little imagines the macabre layer just below the surface, a decadent quagmire of unholy rituals and grisly sacrifice, and before their work is done, Alex and Milo will have confronted unprecedented narcissism, cruelty, deceit and a cold but fiendish attack on the human spirit that shakes both men to the core...

If plot, suspense, characterisation, credibility and the ability to surprise are the best ingredients for a crime thriller, then Kellerman has mastered them all. Guilt is an ingenious psychological page-turner, full of twists and turns, excellent police procedural detail and emotional rollercoaster rides.

Harrowing but utterly gripping.

(Headline, hardback, £16.99)