Ellie Barker is a self-made millionaire by the age of forty, and is obsessed with reopening the coldest of cases: the decades-old death of the mother she never knew. She hires LAPD homicide lieutenant Milo Sturgis to help.
Twenty-five years ago Ellie’s mother was found with a bullet in her head in a torched Cadillac that has overturned on infamously treacherous Mulholland Drive. No physical evidence, no witnesses, no apparent motive. And a slew of detectives have already worked the job and failed.
This is a case that calls for the insight of brilliant psychologist Alex Delaware. And as he and Sturgis begin digging, the mist begins to lift. There are too many coincidences. Facts turn out to be anything but. And as they soon discover, very real threats are lurking in the present…
I was invited to read an ARC of Serpentine by Corner House Publishing in return for an unbiased review. My thanks to Corner House Publishing for the ARC copy of the book.
Serpentine is the 36th book in the series of thrillers that feature Psychologist Alex Delaware and while I have read Jonathan Kellerman before, this was my first encounter with the long-serving character.
The plot of Serpentine focuses on the revival of a thirty-six year old cold-case of Dorothy Swoboda – murdered and her body torched by persons unknown for reasons equally unknown. A chance meeting between Ellie Barker and Deputy Chief Veronique Martz has Lt Milo Sturgis and Psychologist Alex Delaware picking up the scant clues and investigating.
The plot is relatively simple; clue trickle in and towards the end of the book there is a torrent of information to unpack, but this doesn’t make Serpentine a unenjoyable read, more-so the opposite. There is enough of a plot hook, that gets stuck pretty quick, to keep the reader interested and the pacing swift enough to give enough information without being an information dump. It’s a masterfully written growth of tension and suspense.
Alex Delaware is, at this point, a well established character, but Serpentine doesn’t skimp on details of who he is or what he is all about and, even at this late stage in the series, offers room for him to grow in new directions. I was relieved to be given details of his origins and didn’t feel like I’d been left in the dark as to his character. As a new reader coming into this series with fresh-eyes I had my concerns that I’d not know who was who, this fear was unfounded as all the characters had a life of their own and it was easy to make a connection with them.
I particularly enjoyed the working chemistry between Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis. The way they spoke to one another and mulled over different possibilities throughout the case were extremely enjoyable. The conversations flowed really well and weren’t bogged down with prolific descriptions; aiding to the pacing of the story. This doesn’t mean that the descriptive quality of scene setting was lacking, just that the decision of description placement was well chosen.
The cast surrounding the two leads is rather vast, some characters, I’d imagine, well established in previous offerings in the series. Some of them new for this stone-alone mystery. Ellie Barker is an interesting character and ‘client’ of Lt Sturgis and Psychologist Delaware. She is rich, but not of the sort of cliche one might expect from a rich woman in Hollywood, Los Angeles, where the novel and series is set. Ellie comes across as nervous and insecure which made her compelling in her own right, did she have something to hide? Why was she so interested in her mothers death after so long?
A lot of the characters that are mentioned in Serpentine have also passed-away. This case is cold and it seems that a lot of the people involved in the investigations are dead – this gives the impression of impossibility. And a lot of names for the reader to remember; personally I didn’t find it all that-taxing as I found the premise of the ‘who-dun-it’ and all involved fascinating, but I have seen in other reviews that some readers struggled with the vast cast.
As should be expected of a thriller, the case followed various threads and had it’s fair share of twists, turns and red-herrings. Serpentine was a story that kept me guessing throughout and I am happy to report that I had no idea at times who could be the guilty-party; the sign of a successful mystery.
A well thought-out mystery and fast-paced thriller with strong, well-established lead characters. A classic ‘who-dun-it’ with enough twists, turns and red-herrings to keep the reader guessing right until the end.