Kellerman Reread: Over the Edge

jonathankellerman-overtheedgeThe case against Jamey Cadmus seems open and shut. Found clutching a bloody knife at the scene of a horrifying double murder, he’s a prime suspect in a series of killings that have rocked Los Angeles. Even his lawyer won’t do more than plead diminished responsibility. No one – not the police, not the family, not the lawyers – wants Alex Delaware lifting up stones. But under those stones lies something unspeakable…

The third book in the Alex Delaware series is called Over The Edge and was originally published in 1987. While I enjoyed the story overall, I had a hard time getting into this one. This was partly due to the setup of the book and the slow start to the narrative, and partly due to the fact that in this book Kellerman’s descriptive writing kind of got out of hand. Yet once the book got going and I was sucked into the mystery of figuring out what had happened to Jamey, It became another exciting Delaware adventure. 

To elaborate on the second of my problems, the descriptive writing, I found that it was a twofold issue. One the one hand, much of the scene setting felt overly descriptive; characters’ clothing is described in close-up detail as to make, colour, and fashionability, and the same can be said for home decor and cars. I found this distracting and it felt like it slowed the story down. On the other hand, there was far more  psychological detail and theory in this book, with Kellerman/Delaware explaining a lot about the nature of schizophrenia, psychosis, and psychopathy. I loved this detail and learning more about the research on these pathologies and the link to psychedelic drugs, such as PCP and LSD. And while these are two sides of the coin of descriptive writing, the former annoyed me, while the latter did not. Yet I could also understand if someone was put off by the latter, seeing it as info-dumping.

In connection to the large chunks of psychological theory described above, I do have to make special mention of one of my favourite scenes in the book. At one point, Alex and an associate go to the UCLA Medical Library to do further research and I freaking loved it. It was a fabulous view of what an academic library would have looked like almost thirty years ago. The research steps they took also felt very familiar, but it certainly made me realise how much more quickly these searches can be done today thanks to the continuing digitisation of both the search and cataloguing systems and the literature itself. To me, as an academic librarian, this section of the story sang, because it so clearly connects to my own experience.

What made the set up of the book somewhat uncomfortable, was the fact that in the beginning Alex and Milo are on opposing teams, which is a first in the series and, if I remember correctly, the only time this happened. In fact, Milo is rather absent in the novel as he has withdrawn from Alex and their friendship before the start of the book. While he does turn up later in the novel, he isn’t as pervasively present as he was in the previous novels. One of the Delaware series’ strongest elements is the chemistry between Alex and Milo, which I missed, but I found the way Kellerman explored the tension in their friendship quite interesting and it made the resolution to the situation doubly satisfying.

With Milo somewhat out of the picture, we get to see far more of two other police officers, Richard Cash and Cal Whitehead. They are the detectives in charge of the murder investigation and they are rather unpleasant specimens. Bigoted, sexist, and self-absorbed, they don’t exactly inspire confidence. In addition we meet some other fringe characters that will return in future books or, like Mal Worthy and Del Hardy, had a role in the previous books. I especially liked Lou Cestare, Alex’s fast-talking stock broker, who seems both as flash and far-less-flash than you’d expect from a successful 1980s broker. And of course, this book saw the return of Robin from Japan. We get a far clearer view of Alex and Robin together as a couple, which I enjoyed.

Jamey is the central mystery of the novel. One of Alex’s former patients, he is also a link to Alex’s past and we get to see a far younger, still-practicing Alex in several flashbacks. I liked learning more about Alex’s past and seeing the kids of the Project 160 he worked and of which Jamey was one of the subjects. The mystery surrounding Jamey and the killings was an interesting one, complicated and ultimately surprising.

Overall, I enjoyed Over the Edge, but it’s not one of my favourite Delaware novels; between the overly descriptive writing and the setup with Alex and Milo on different teams, it just didn’t work as well for me. Still, I had fun with the book and I look forward to starting the next one, Silent Partner soon.