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by Jonathan & Faye Kellerman
Ballantine Books, November 2006
304 pages
ISBN: 0345467981

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Literary couple Jonathan and Faye Kellerman have between them racked up more than 20 novels each – but CAPITAL CRIMES is only their second collaborative work. It consists of two police procedural crime novellas, each set in an American cultural capital and each featuring a Kellerman recurring protagonist: Los Angeles cop Peter Decker (Faye) and Dr Alex Delaware (Jonathan). The stories are swift and compelling, though in both, the complex murder victims stand out as stronger characters than the recurring ones.

In the first novella, My Sister’s Keeper, the progressive oasis of Berkeley, California is shocked by the murder of out lesbian local politician Davida Grayson. With some help from the maverick Decker, Berkeley detectives William Tecumseh Barnes and Amanda Green investigate. Their search threatens to expose Davida and her world as more complicated – and perhaps more hypocritical – than the woman her constituents know.

Interesting characters include Davida’s flaky, drunk, cheating bisexual girlfriend; a maniacally homophobic, sexist, and racist extreme right activist who lives in the back woods of nowhere; and Davida’s elderly mother, who is not as cookie-cutter “Daughters of the American Revolution” as she wishes to appear.

The swiftly snaking plot is exciting, but the characters sometimes seem a bit stereotypical. Are there any bisexuals who don’t cheat? And, even in Berkeley, does any candidate for elected office really get “a lot of mileage out of being a lesbian?” A few lines seem less considered than Ms Kellerman’s usual, such as the possibly redundant “Her mother was the last person to see her alive, other than the killer.” Still, My Sister’s Keeper is an entertaining read.

In the second novella, Music City Breakdown, the location moves to Nashville: capital of the country-western music world. This suspenseful and sad tale perfectly illustrates Indigo Girls singer-songwriter Emily Saliers’s bitter paean to Nashville: “Did you give me half a chance, with your southern style and your hidden dance?”

In the Kellermans’ Nashville, legendary sixties folksinger Jack Jeffries was once a favorite of listeners and groupies alike, he’s now an alcohol-pickled, obese mess on his last legs and his last barely-functioning kidney. When Jeffries’s murder en route to a Nashville mini-comeback gig moots his health problems moot, musical cops Baker Southerby and Lamar von Gundy shake down Opryland for his killer – and find an underworld of great expectations and brutally murdered dreams.

A stronger piece than My Sister’s Keeper, Music City Breakdown resonates beyond the time it takes to read it. Dr Delaware makes a cameo appearance as the late Jeffries’s attendant psychologist.

The Kellermans’ capital cities concept is a great one. I hope to see their characters travel to more of America’s distinctive cultural centers.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, December 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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