Mar. 26th, 2017

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Meeting up with Pearl and Sibyl was… interesting.

After lunch, I took Pearl and her four-year-old for a tramp through the FDR parklands. Freezing rain was pelting down.

I’ll write more about Pearl and Sybil later.

For now what’s important is that when I got home, I was freezing, too.

So I crawled into bed with Jonathan Kellerman’s latest Alex Delaware potboiler, Heartbreak Hotel. Read half the book; fell asleep.

Woke up around midnight – still in my clothes. Read the other half.


###

The thing I like about Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware series is that he takes his contract with his readers very seriously. He never shorts on weight. He never forces stuff on his readers that his readers don’t care about.

Chief among the things that Jonathan Kellerman’s readers don’t care about are tight plotlines. Every novel in the Alex Delaware series meanders. When Kellerman needs a character to frame for some crime or wacky evidentiary sighting, he just makes that character up on the spot! No messy foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing, of course, is exactly how you separate good writers from okay writers. Good writers understand Chekhov’s dictum: One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.

By that criteria, Kellerman is not a good writer. But he's obviously smart, and I’m sure he knows all about Chekhov. He understands clearly that his readers aren’t necessarily looking for good.

###

Every Alex Delaware book has the same elements. The meat of each book is a series of one-on-ones with waiters, hotel clerks, bartenders, lawyers, property owners, strippers, Hollywood producers, bored housewives, and other Los Angeles “types,” cynically observed through the eyes of the protagonist, a psychologist named Alex Delaware blessed with well nigh superhuman insight and penetrating powers of deduction. Admit it! This type of filler is what you liked best when you read Raymond Chandler.

Kellerman fills his pages with psychopaths. He never skimps on torture scenes or weird sex. In every book, you’ll run across at least three descriptions of decomposing corpses. Description is Kellerman’s forte, in fact, and he’s good at it. He relies a bit too much on Roget’s Thesaurus and adjectives, true, but some of his descriptions almost reach the compressed brilliance of poetry.

Alex Delaware is a big wooden puppet. He has a buddy named Milo, a gay police detective, equally wooden. Kellerman feels it’s very important that you understand that Milo is gay, and mentions Milo’s gayness multiple times in the opening chapters of every book though he never humanizes that gayness by having Milo lust after the stray bear or twink. It’s an odd kind of virtue signaling. There’s also an impossibly beautiful and pure girlfriend who got written out of the series for a book or two. I assume she was brought back by popular demand though I couldn’t tell you what she contributes to the ambiance of the series.

When Kellerman writes dialogue in furtherance of the action, the dialogue clunks and rattles like the suspension system of a Chevy Vega. (I owned one of those once.) His throwaway quips, on the other hand, can be quite amusing.

And Kellerman pays special attention to the endings of chapters, you can tell. He takes particular care to tie them up with a flourish that reminds me a bit of those elaborate bows on the empty packages they stash under department store Christmas trees. Also he’s considerate of the fact that his readers may still be curious about that waiter/stripper/Hollywood producer they met in Chapter 16 when the action concludes. The last two chapters of every book I’ve ever read are devoted to descriptions of what happens next to its minor and major characters. I call this damn obliging.

###

Heartbreak Hotel is one of Kellerman’s more ambitious novels. It comes close to having an actual plot, and I’d hazard a guess that plot was inspired by The Maltese Falcon. The MacGuffin that hides in plain sight throughout.

Characters appear less randomly in Heartbreak Hotel than they do in many of the other books in this series, though when Kellerman realizes in Chapter 33 that he needs another villain in addition to the three he’s set up, he turns one of the minor one-on-one characters from an earlier chapter into a Big Bad to clunky and unconvincing result.

The deal with Kellerman, I suspect, is that he’s not particularly interested in writing. Or, at least, he’s not particularly interested in writing Alex Delaware books.

He continues to churn them out because each one predictably floats to the top of the NYT bestseller tank for two weeks before being recycled two months later on the Discount Bestseller shelf at Barnes & Noble. And he’s very prolific. He publishes an Alex Delaware book every year! Heartbreak Hotel is number 32 in the series.

Alex Delaware books are perfect mindless entertainment for people who like kink and violence, and whose functional vocabularies exceed 5,000 words. Honey, you know I’m lookin’ in the mirror when I write that!

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