Hot on the heels of the amazing and engaging Serpentineis John Kellerman’s latest novel, which he created in collaboration with his son, award-winning playwright Jesse Kellerman.
Part of the Clay Edison series, Lost Souls follows the intrepid coroner as he deals with a case of a baby’s dead body, found decomposing under a stage at a Berkley University park.
The park in question, known as People’s Park, is due to be demolished and turned into a dormitory complex. However, as the building crew come to tear down the park’s infrastructure, including the stage, a bone is discovered.
The bone turns out to be the entire skeleton of a young baby, wrapped in a blanket and clearly old. The discovery turns the park into a political playground, with the University on one side and organisations fighting to protect the park, which they believe to be a Native American burial site, on the other.
In the middle, Edison and his team are trying to uncover the identity of the infant whose remains were under the stage. They find out that he’s a boy, and then they uncover a match for his DNA. This discovery, made early in the novel, takes Edison to a prison cell where a violent white supremacist is in denial about the child, and his kids refuse to acknowledge their previously unknown sibling.
At the same time, Edison is contacted by a wealthy tech entrepreneur, who thinks that the remains might be those of his long lost sister. He’s never met her, and he doesn’t remember ever having done so, but he has a snapshot of his mother and a baby long before he was born. His mother is now dead, and he’s desperate for some kind of closure on the subject. So much so that’s he’s gone to desperate lengths and, so far, found nothing. His father, who doesn’t speak to anymore, has let slip that the child was a girl, but he doesn’t know much more about her.
The remains at the park are not the tech wizard’s sister, but Edison, who has his own little baby girl at home, agrees to take on the case to help find out what happened to the child in the picture. Through the case, which he takes on privately, he comes up against silence, bureaucracy and the FBI, all of which takes him on towards some shocking discoveries.
All the while, the fight over the park and the potential building of the dormitory is reaching fever pitch. Tensions boil over and violence ensues. Edison also receives personal threats, leading him to fear for the safety of his family. While the plot has a lot of twists and turns, it remains enticing and easy to follow. If anything, the multiple plot points help readers to feel engaged in the story.
Thanks to the narrative skills and extensive experience of the writers, Lost Souls is an eye-opening tale that teaches readers a lot about American policing and the process of managing cases. As an English woman, I didn’t realise that American coroners have so much power, and that they act as a combination of pathologist and police officer. Clay Edison is certainly not like the fuddy duddy English pathologist type character that you see in a lot of British crime novels.
Instead, he’s a hardened yet compassionate officer who understands people and has a lot of experience handling individuals in many different painful, dangerous or generally difficult situations. The two Kellerman’s deftly entwine his personal and professional lives in the novel, giving just enough insight to make the issues he’s dealing with at work seem so deeply personal and painful to the protagonist.
As well as Edison, there are so many incredible, believable characters in this novel. There’s the tech mogul, who is both dedicated to finding out more about his long lost sister and disillusioned that his past attempts have all led to dead ends. Also, there is the family of the white supremacist, who are intriguing and more than just the typical stereotypes that you see in many thrillers. Instead, they’re two-dimensional figures who are clearly a product of a very messed-up upbringing and who really enrich the story.
The characters are backed up by punchy dialogue that sounds realistic yet slick. The police characters are all witty enough to keep the novel moving but not so much that they seem corny or completely fake.
One of the few criticisms I have of the novel is that some parts of the storyline, namely Edison taking on a private case, feel a little forced. It seems a bit unbelievable that a busy coroner, in the midst of a hectic investigation and barely sleeping because of his young daughter, would jump so readily at the chance to take on yet more work. The case appears unsolvable, and there while the character of the tech businessman is portrayed as slick and persuasive, I wondered a few times whether a busy public official would stoop to taking on a private job. I also wondered about the legalities of doing so; while Edison doesn’t agree a fee, in the UK such a practice would definitely be frowned upon, if not a definite breach of rules.
However, that’s a minor grumble, and given that it is a book, and not real life, I suppose I can give the Kellerman’s a bit of artistic license, especially since it makes the novel that much more enticing. It’s fascinating to watch the two cases unfold alongside one another, and between them the two entwine to carry the plot through to its dramatic and satisfying conclusion.
Ultimately, Lost Souls is a fascinating addition to the Clay Edison series and incorporates all of the best parts of John Kellerman’s storytelling abilities with the fresh ideas and innovation of his son Jesse. This is a gripping thriller that should definitely be added to your summer reading list. It’ll make the perfect read for when you’re relaxing out in the sun and want to enjoy a fascinating crime caper.