The Wedding Guest by Jonathan Kellerman

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Reviewed by Rod McLary

Mark Twain once said ‘apparently, there is nothing that cannot happen today’. Strange as it may seem, this quote is quite apposite in relation to Jonathan Kellerman’s latest Alex Delaware story.

The Wedding Guest begins as expected in that there is a wedding. However – and it is an important ‘however’ – one of the bridesmaids, in her rather desperate hunt to find an unoccupied bathroom, also finds a murdered guest: a beautiful young woman who is beautifully dressed but is clearly dead on the bathroom floor.

Kellerman cleverly uses a tried and true concept in setting out this mystery. The wedding occurs in a converted nightclub where the only people present are the wedding party and those invited to the wedding. The murderer could only be one of those people. Agatha Christie expertly used this technique in a number of her novels including famously Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express. But Kellerman’s situation becomes more complicated because no one knows who the victim is. Both the bride’s and the groom’s guests all deny any knowledge of the victim – who she was, where she came from, and why she was at the wedding.

Lieutenant Milo Sturgis of the Los Angeles Police Department is called in to solve the case. Sturgis – in common with many of the protagonists in crime novels – is isolated within the LAPD and is reputedly difficult to manage but tolerated because of his high success rate in solving murders. He cannot solve this murder by himself of course. He needs the assistance of his best friend – the renowned child psychologist Alex Delaware who, as well as counselling disturbed and challenging children, consults on an ad hoc basis to the LAPD. As regular readers of Kellerman and, in particular, of the Delaware series know, Alex’s psychological insights coupled with his [unofficial] detecting more often than not lead to the killer/s being identified.

In The Wedding Guest, Sturgis and Delaware are faced with a victim who has no identification and whom no one knows. After setting the scene in the wedding venue and introducing the reader to the key characters, the author then gradually unravels the mystery – who the victim was and why she was killed. Along the way, there are a number of red herrings and dead-end streets which must be investigated and discarded. Ultimately though, the mystery is solved and the novel ends with a nail-biting dénouement which takes place on a high-rise balcony.

Kellerman is a skilled writer whose style creates the appropriate mood for a murder mystery. In the early part of the novel, he writes in short sharp sentences thus developing a sense of urgency and panic as the hapless bridesmaid and the wedding party come to realise what has happened. Clearly, the author has read Kingsley Amis’ famous statement ‘if you are using an adverb, you have got the verb wrong’ – as seen below:

Brown eyes as expressionless as plastic buttons stared back at her. The girl’s face was a weird color. So were her lips, gray with some blue around the edges, hanging loose, you could see some teeth. [6]

He frowned and swung the door wide. Baby’s small body was curled on a pale-blue sofa, a bag of corn chips in her lap. She wore a black tank top and white yoga pants. No tissues, no blanket, no cup of hot tea. Maybe she was tougher than the Valkyrie. [147]

Of course, even in the middle of a murder investigation, there is time for a personal life – at least for Alex. Alex has a partner – Robin – who repairs musical instruments and whose knowledge of those instruments ultimately assists in the investigation. There are a number of romantic interludes involving Alex and Robin just often enough to offer the reader some respite from the tedium of police investigations. Milo – who is gay – is also in a relationship but [in this book at least] the reader does not meet his partner. So, although it comes clear that there are earlier deaths linked with this one and Milo and Alex are now chasing a serial killer, there is some time for romance.

All in all, The Wedding Guest is a fine addition to the Kellerman oeuvre. Like all his books – and particularly the Alex Delaware books of which there are about 30 – it is a thrilling read with enough twists and turns to keep even the best amateur sleuth on his/her toes. The dénouement is unexpected and more disturbing than the reader would anticipate especially when the material seized from the killer’s apartment is described. However, the final ending is both heart-warming and reassuring. Some good has come out of the whole experience.

Jonathan Kellerman is the best-selling author of more than 40 crime books. He has won the Goldwyn, Edgar and Anthony awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association. He has also written books in conjunction with his wife Faye and his son Jesse – both of whom have also written successful books in their own right.

The Wedding Guest

[2019]

by Jonathan Kellerman

Penguin Random House UK

ISBN 978 1 780 89902 2

368pp; $32.99

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