In Alex Delaware, Jonathan Kellerman has created one of modern crime fiction's most interesting heroes. Unlike his contemporaries, Delaware is neither a private eye nor a cop - he's a consulting psychologist who uses his intimate knowledge of the human mind to solve brutal homicides. He doesn't get down and dirty with clues, blood stains and DNA - instead, he looks around the crime scene and tries to envision what the killer was thinking. And by building a psychological profile and getting a "feel" for the situation, he usually succeeds in uncovering the truth.
A novel approach to crime solving indeed - and nowhere is it seen more clearly than in Kellerman's latest effort, "Monster". Here, Kellerman and his erstwhile partner, Milo Sturgis, are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Dr. Claire Argent, a psychologist working at the Starkweather Institute For The Criminally Insane, a local correctional facility for mentally-disturbed criminals. Argent was found in a car trunk with her eyes destroyed - a pattern chillingly similar to the murder of a would-be actor a few months earlier.
Sturgis and Delaware head for Starkweather, and there encounter Ardis Peake, a schizoid convicted of murder, mutilation and cannibalism, referred to by the media and other inmates as the Monster. Peake seems to have the unusual ability to predict murders before they happen - witnesses record his mutterings prior to the murder of Argent and other local deaths. And as Alex and Sturgis begin to investigate Argent's death, they find some troubling links to the murders Peake committed years ago. Before long, they're convinced that the truth is far murkier than they've been led to believe thus far...
As always in a Kellerman novel, Delaware's psychoanalytical skills get a good workout - in "Monster", his exhaustive research into the Monster's past throws up some interesting clues, and his evolving psychological profile of Argent's killer makes for interesting reading. Kellerman's juxtaposition of past and present events is also very skillful, and the partnership between the methodical Sturgis and the more intuitive Delaware plays out well. While the story does appear to go off on tangents at times, Kellerman wraps it all up neatly at the end, making "Monster" another one worth adding to the collection.This article was first published on 30 Aug 2000.