Having enjoyed The Museum Of Desire when I reviewed it last year, I was excited to check out the latest Jonathan Kellerman novel Serpentine.
Kellerman brings back his gruff, burly LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware, who join forces once again when Milo has a very cold case foisted upon him by the higher ups.
He’s unwilling to take on the case, which is more than 35 years old, but he and Alex go to meet a wealthy and influential young businesswoman who has used her connections to wangle herself a review of the case, despite it’s age and the very low probability that it’ll get solved.
From the first meeting with the women, a gym wear mogul whose mother was found shot dead in a car miles on a remote road in LA, it is clear things aren’t what they seem with this accident case. The site where the car is found is very from her home in Danville, but besides that there’s very little for the pair to go on.
From this first meeting, it’s clear that the unusual yet well-matched sleuthing duo know that they’ve got their work cut out for them. The woman has little information to go on; she only found out a few years ago from her stepfather what had happened to her mother. Her stepfather refused to tell her anything and there’s limited information out there about the case.
She only has one photo of her mother; a strange picture that shows her standing awkwardly alongside the man she’s supposedly in love with. The only possession she has left from her late mother is her necklace, made of Serpentine, which is where the novel gets its name. The jewellery isn’t something that this seemingly stylish lady would wear, but her daughter clings to it like a comfort blanket that reminds her of the mother she never knew.
With her stepfather now dead and gone, the young woman is desperately searching for answers, and she’s happy to get the help of a pair of experts, neither of whom is as happy to be taking on the case. Milo and Alex have limited information from the start- there’s not even an accurate site for where the car was torched all those years ago.
Kellerman’s characterisation is brilliant in this novel; there are some really amazing characters involved with this case as it unfolds. One of my personal favourites is the last living detective who was assigned to the case: a truly obnoxious vegan who goes by the name ‘Du’.
It’s as the pair, with a little help from Du and the Internet, delve deeper into the case, that they see that it’s not the dead end they’d originally thought it was. In fact, alongside the initial victim, there are several other unexplained and unusual deaths connected to the case. For example, the boyfriend of the murdered woman, who raised her daughter, died on a hike when he’s clearly not an man who’s accustomed to spending time outdoors.
As the case shambles on, Milo and Alex realise that there’s more to this case than meets the eye. There’s something sinister going on, and there are powerful people who don’t want the truth to see the light of day.
Much like The Museum Of Desire, Serpentine is witty and engaging. The main detective, Milo Sturgis, is reminiscent of some of the best hardboiled detectives. His supporter and fellow investigator, psychologist Alex Delaware, who’s also the novel’s narrator, is his opposite, and in a way the pair turn the traditional detective pairing on its head.
While many detective duos are headed by a cerebral detective who is aided by a strong everyman, in this case Milo is the strong, burly, ordinary bloke. Alex is the cerebral thinker of the pair, and he assists the LAPD detective by using his professional and personal knowledge to assist his more streetwise colleague.
Together, the pair works hard to solve the case. As with the previous novel, there are a couple of small issues with the plot, and it does feel a little frustrating how hard the sleuthing duo works, only to have some major for major breakthroughs in the case to drop into their laps. While luck and coincidence must, in real life, assist with some cases, with a cold case like this one, it seems highly unlikely that so much good luck would bring so many great pieces of information and fresh leads to light.
These issues are small and inconsequential, however, when you consider the excellence of this fast-paced plot. Kellerman is a master at suspense, and his excellent characterisation will keep you engaged and invested in the story throughout this witty mystery.
Overall, Serpentine is much more than just a dry old cold case story. The plot quickly transforms into a fast moving modern thriller with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. There are plenty of mysteries associated with the cold case where the investigation begins, so there’s enough to keep you entertained and leave you with no idea what’s coming next, which is ideal for a police procedural.