True Detectives

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 September, 2009, 12:00am

True Detectives
by Jonathan Kellerman
Headline, HK$216

Jonathan Kellerman's thriller, with its references to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, promised brotherly tension, lessons learned and a dramatic denouement.

But the novel fails to deliver any emotional roller-coaster rides for its two main characters, half-brothers Moses Reed and Aaron Fox.

Both were minor characters in another Kellerman detective novel, Bones, and are here promoted to major players. This time, Fox is hired as a private detective by the demanding Mr Dmitri, the boss of a missing girl's father.

On the other side of town, Reed, a police officer, has been handed the job of finding out what happened to the girl, Caitlin Frostig, after her case was closed without conclusion.

With the same mother but different fathers, Aaron - whose father was black - is a smooth-dressing, lady-killing bachelor; Moses is a no-frills guy with a sexy black girlfriend.

We know from the outset that Fox and Reed's fathers were both police officers and that Reed senior was his partner the night Fox senior was murdered.

The older men were not enemies, yet their sons have little time for each other. But the exact reason, personality clashes aside, is never revealed.

Add to this the fact that Hollywood heartthrob Mason Book and cohort Ax Dement, the son of a famous film director, are the bad guys and the story is all the more disappointing.

The cast of seedy Los Angeles characters the brothers encounter while attempting to discover what happened to Caitlin is terribly cliched; unbelievable twists are that Book is suffering from an eating disorder and that Dement's mother sleeps with Fox during his investigations. It all seems as though the novel was written quickly to fill an hour-long episode of LAPD.

The one possible twist that could have saved the day does not eventuate. When Liana, the attractive female friend of one of the brothers, is enlisted to visit the bar where Caitlin was last seen, she encounters a man who knows minor details of the disappearance. Liana immediately thinks she is on to something.

The reader is briefly led to believe the bad guy may be this handsome, intelligent gentleman - not least when she goes back to his apartment after a 'date' and fails to answer her mobile phone when Reed calls her that night.

The aggressively nasty Dement, in contrast, seems too obvious to be the killer: surely no self-respecting whodunit can be that obvious?

Again, unfortunately, the good guy remains just that, the brothers eventually unite using information they have garnered separately, asking favours of brusque acquaintances and finally enlisting psychologist Alex Delaware (Kellerman is also a psychologist and Delaware is one of his main characters in other novels) to work out possible motives.

Thanks to the prostitutes and pimps they meet on the way, the dialogue is TV-centric - acronyms, short forms, police-speak ('Aaron used a pay-as-you-go cell to contact his DMV source. Ka-ching Mr Dmitri ... Morales was suspected of several murders but had only been convicted of a single ADW, serving half of a 10-year sentence ...')

If you are unfamiliar with contemporary American vernacular don't tackle True Detectives. If you like police shows, its familiarity may see you through.