Kellerman Reread: Silent Partner

jonathankellerman-silentpartnerAt a party for a controversial Los Angeles sex therapist. Alex encounters a face from his own past—Sharon Ransom, an exquisite, alluring lover who left him abruptly more than a decade earlier. Sharon now hints that she desperately needs help, but Alex evades her. The next day she is dead, an apparent suicide.

Driven by guilt and sadness, Alex plunges into the maze of Sharon’s life—a journey that will take him through the pleasure palaces of California’s ultra-rich, into the dark closets of a family’s disturbing past, and finally into the alleyways of the mind, where childhood terrors still hold sway.

Welcome back to the fourth instalment of my Kellerman Reread. Alex Delaware returns after his last adventure in Over The Edge and life couldn’t be more different. He’s working more and his life is troubled. While Milo and Rick have reconciled, Alex and Robin are working through some big issues and consequently she’s once again largely gone from the narrative in a practical sense. Her absence and the question of whether it’ll be permanent looms over Alex and the narrative, especially due to Alex’s having to deal with this relationship from the past and the way he was with Sharon then and how he is with Robin now. 

Being faced with his past with Sharon and the issues he has with Robin, forces Alex to take a close look at himself and pushes him to greater insight into himself – what is it they say about doctors again? That they never take their own advice? – and take responsibility for his role in his problems with Robin. I appreciated the fact how Kellerman made Alex’s relationship problems serve as a goad for his almost compulsive need to figure out what happened to Sharon. Almost as if displacing his anger, fear, and confusion onto Sharon’s death and solving the mystery he can ensure that everything between him and Robin will work out too.

Silent Partner essentially contains three mysteries: what happened to Linda Lanier and her brother, what happened when Sharon was a small child and was Sharon’s death really a suicide? All of these are connected, of course, and the way Kellerman interweaves these storylines with each other and with some clear social commentary was quite interesting. The book contains lots of sex; both actual sex scenes and sex as a concept. While the fact that Alex’s sex life gets so much page time was new, it certainly fit in with the theme of much of the mystery. Through Alex’s investigations the reader is presented with an exploration of porn and titillation and the everlasting discussion surrounding them on whether they are a legitimate form of art or whether they are just low and vulgar forms of entertainment. More importantly, the narrative looks at the use and abuse of sex as a power play, as a way to control another person, be it directly or through blackmail.

Another object of social commentary is the mysterious figure of Leland Belding. On this reread, I finally realised how closely he was modelled on Howard Hughes – thank you, Leonardo DiCaprio – who at the time of the novel’s writing would have been a far more instantly recognisable figure than he is these days. While there were elements of the story that seemed quite far-fetched, the obvious mirroring of Howard Hughes and his eccentricities made the plot easier to swallow. Taken together with the events described in Over The Edge there also seems to be a running social commentary in the books as regards those born to wealth and privilege versus the working and middle class and those who have gained wealth through their own hard work. It’ll be interesting to see whether this commentary persists in later novels.

One thing that keeps surprising me about the books is how far less central Robin and Milo are to the books in an active, present capacity. Robin is away from the narrative for the second time in four books and even possibly away from the relationship altogether. Milo, after being absent due to his withdrawing due to his work-related troubles in Over The Edge, is partially absent in Silent Partner due to being on vacation. I’m starting to wonder whether my recollection of Milo and Robin as important and very active participants in the books is based on my recollections of the later books or whether it’s due to the fact I like them so much as characters in their own right. I guess only time will and rereading the rest of the books will tell.

And even if his appearances are brief in the book, I once again loved Milo in this outing, with him working off the books between returning home and returning to work. He’s very much motivated by the possibility to bring low a bigoted police chief who is making his life difficult, to put it mildly, and I really like the way he is juxtaposed in that way to Alex. Alex always comes across as mister squeaky-clean, even when he’s bending or even breaking the rules. Milo, on the other hand, is as gritty and perhaps sometimes too flexible with the rulebook, yet his moral core is rigid and when he steps out of line, he always does so with a strong conviction that this is the only way to the greater good.

On the whole I enjoyed Silent Partner quite a bit. Even if the plot was sometimes a little “out there”, there was a lot thematic fat to chew over, which I enjoyed. I certainly found it to be a stronger book than Over The Edge and I look forward to seeing how the relationship between Alex and Robin develops and to see how things work out for Milo at the station. I’m also hoping the next book, Time Bomb, will give us more Milo and Alex detecting together and solving a mystery in tandem.