Book review: Victims by Jonathan Kellerman

What makes the best crime thrillers so thrilling ... plot, suspense, characterisation, credibility or simply the ability to surprise?

As a clinical psychologist and best-selling author of over 30 top-class novels, Jonathan Kellerman would seem to have turned crime writing into an art form.

With his razor-sharp brain, gift for pithy dialogue and ability to home in on the criminal mind, Kellerman has built up a huge fan base always eager to snap up his hard-hitting ‘Crime Reader’ series featuring cynical LAPD detective Milo Sturgis and his super sleuth psychologist Alex Delaware.

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Kellerman’s trusty trademarks are style, intelligence, logic and humanity, and a knack for telling a story through a sequence of descriptive word ‘pictures’ which set the scene and render hyperbole redundant.

Victims is an ingenious psychological page-turner which takes us into the darkest depths of a human mind so brutal and so lethal that even the most hardened detectives are shocked and sickened by a series of gruesome killings.

Not since Jack the Ripper terrorised the London slums has there been such a terrifying and disturbing crime scene. By all accounts, acid-tongued Vita Berlin hadn’t a friend in the world, but who did she upset so badly to end up with a necklace of her own intestines wound round her neck ‘like a a fashionista’s puffy scarf’?

One look at her apartment prompts Milo to summon his expert in hunting homicidal maniacs, Alex Delaware. But despite his finely honed skills, even Alex is stumped when more murders occur in the same ghastly manner, yet with no apparent connection among the victims.

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And the only clue left behind – a blank page bearing a question mark – seems to be both a menacing taunt and a cry for help from a killer baffled by his own deadly urges.

Under pressure to end the killing spree and prevent a citywide panic, Milo redoubles his efforts to discover a link between the victims. Meanwhile, Alex navigates the secretive world of mental health treatment, from the sleek office of a Beverly Hills therapist to a shuttered mental institution where an unholy alliance between the mad and the monstrous may have been sealed in blood.

As each jagged piece of the puzzle fits into place, an ever more horrific portrait emerges of a sinister mind at its most unimaginable. “This one was different,” Alex observes at the start of the case. This one will haunt his waking life, and his darkest dreams, long after its end...

Full of twists and turns, excellent police procedural detail and emotional rollercoaster rides, Victims is sophisticated, harrowing and utterly gripping.

(Headline, hardback, £14.99)

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