Jonathan Kellerman launched the Alex Delaware series of mystery novels in 1985 with the publication of When the Bough Breaks. The book won the Edgar and Anthony Awards for Best First Novel the following year. He has added to the series almost every year since then. And now, in 2019, comes The Wedding Guest, the latest Alex Delaware mystery. It’s the 34th entry in this venerable series. Kellerman displays none of the fatigue and boredom some other authors succumb to in churning out volume after volume in their own long-running series. The Wedding Guest is as fresh and engaging as Kellerman’s earliest novels.
Humor makes the cruelty and violence easier to bear
Throughout the Alex Delaware series, the focus is squarely on Delaware, a PhD clinical child psychologist who is frequently called in to assist the LAPD on difficult cases. But the books wouldn’t work without Delaware’s unofficial partner, Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. Milo is an oversized, gay, African-American with the quick wit of a standup comedian. The dialogue between these two remarkable characters is often funny, and the humor makes the cruelty and violence of the crimes they investigate just a little easier to bear. Here, for instance, is Milo asking Alex “‘Should I drop you at home?’
The Wedding Guest (Alex Delaware #34) by Jonathan Kellerman (2019) 371 pages @@@@@ (5 out of 5)
“I said, ‘I’m free.’
“He said, ‘If that’s a statement of spiritual and emotional well-being, I find it offensively smug.'”
Now, chances are pretty slim you’ll ever encounter a wisecracking cop like Milo. But he’s there to lighten the mood in every one of the Alex Delaware novels I’ve read so far. And the books are much the richer for his presence.
The latest Alex Delaware mystery is fresh and engaging
The eponymous wedding guest is a strikingly beautiful young woman in a red dress who is found dead on a toilet at a wedding she wasn’t invited to attend. It’s immediately apparent to Alex and Milo that she hadn’t killed herself, and the evidence later backs them up. The problem is, they simply can’t identify her. And there is no discernible connection to anyone who did attend the wedding.
Milo and Alex’s investigation raises serious questions about the possible motives of several individuals in the wedding party. All the while they pursue their frustrating search for the victim’s identity, they find more and more reasons to wonder whether anyone on either the bride’s or the groom’s side might have had a motive to kill the woman. Kellerman’s account of the investigation is invariably suspenseful. And what we learn about both Alex and Milo adds depth to our enjoyment of the series as a whole.
Insight about the history of Los Angeles
Another of the strengths of the novels in this series is Kellerman’s insight about the history of Los Angeles. For example, in The Wedding Guest, he writes about “the Valley’s postwar boom, when ranches and citrus groves buckled before an influx of sun-seekers, G.I.’s at loose ends, industrious optimists, and self-inventors of varying morality. A human tsunami, flooding the region with hope and recklessness and avarice, every inch of loam up for bid.” And that’s about the most eloquent comment I’ve ever encountered about the growth of the San Fernando Valley. The latest Alex Delaware mystery is a joy to read.
For additional reading
Previously I’ve reviewed four of the first five Alex Delaware novels:
- When the Bough Breaks (#1), reviewed at When a child psychologist uncovers the key to solving a murder;
- Blood Test (#2), reviewed at This complex murder mystery hinges on the symptoms of schizophrenia;
- Silent Partner (#4), reviewed at Childhood trauma is the key to this psychological thriller; and
- Time Bomb (#5), reviewed at A school shooting, 60s radicals, and the Holocaust.
You’ll find this and dozens of other excellent novels at 5 top Los Angeles mysteries and thrillers (plus lots of runners-up).
You might also enjoy my posts:
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series;
- 20 excellent standalone mysteries and thrillers; and
- 20 outstanding detective series from around the world.
For an abundance of great mystery stories, go to Top 20 suspenseful detective novels (plus 200 more).
And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.