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Book Reviews   |    
Rage
Reviewed by Lee Combrinck-Graham, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.12.1633-a
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by Jonathan Kellerman; New York, Ballantine, 2005, 384 pages, $26.95

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Jonathan Kellerman is a respected psychologist who first came to my attention in the 1970s when I read some of his research in pediatric oncology. I so admired his work that, I admit, I was disappointed when I learned he was writing mystery stories.

That I haven't read many of Kellerman's 23 novels speaks mostly to my own taste in mysteries, but also to their disappointing lightness. The novels may be more saleable this way, but ultimately, for a child and adolescent psychiatrist like myself, Rage is too contrived and, finally—sad to say—not that interesting. In contrast are the psychologically complex characters and plots of Laurie King, P. D. James, and Karin Fossum—oops, all women.

Kellerman's formula characters include Alex Delaware, the forensic psychologist who is divorced and romantically involved with a clinical psychologist. The two have long separations that give him time to work night and day, intense romantic moments, and a traumatic intertwining of his work and hers. The formula for such independent gumshoes doesn't allow for a stable partner—for example, Robert Crais's Elvis Cole, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallender. The next formula character is the fat, self-indulgent sidekick. In Rage, this is Milo. He is huge and has prodigious appetites for fatty foods and liquor. Milo's appetites are connected with many consultations in restaurants in the Los Angeles area, whose specialty foods are deliciously described in the book. Hard-eating, hard-drinking detectives are found in J. D. Wingfield's Jack Frost and in Clint, the ex-cop colleague of James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux. Of course, the refinement of the gourmand extraordinaire, Nero Wolfe, is in stark contrast to these rough, rowdy, and lewd fellows.

Remember the shocking murder of a little boy by two ten-year-olds in England a few years ago, and the two young boys who dropped a little boy out of the window of a high-rise in Chicago? At the beginning of this story it looks as if Kellerman will explore the motivations of the two young perpetrators of the abduction and murder of a two-year-old girl. One is mentally retarded, and the other has a transient life with inconsistent caretaking. However, the motives of these two young killers quickly recede into the background of a plot with twists and turns around the other characters in the drama of the murdered girl, her parents, two religious counselors, and the attorneys involved in defending the youngsters. In the end the boys' crime is really the fuse leading to a bomb that fizzles in its convoluted logic.

For mystery writing that describes refinements of eating, I would recommend Donna Leone, whose Guido Brunetti eats lunch with his wife and children almost every day. For descriptions of marital harmony, cheerful support, and sometimes hilarious engagement by the distaff, I recommend Reginald Hill. And for a penetrating presentation of the developmental, social, and psychological underpinnings of criminals and those children who remain in their thrall, I would suggest the incomparable Minette Walters.

Dr. Combrinck-Graham is associate clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center in Stamford, Connecticut.

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