Book excerpt: lockdown whodunnits

I enjoy murder mysteries, from psychological to police procedural to British cozies to locked rooms.

Stuck at home (safer!), I am feeding my obsessive-compulsive leanings by reading all the Alex Delaware murder mysteries by Jonathan Kellerman, from When the Bough Breaks (first published in 1985) to The Museum of Desire (published February 2020).

I jumped to Alex Delaware when I ran out of Harry Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. I got started on Harry Bosch novels because of the Amazon video series, now in its sixth (!) season.

An odd parallel between the two series set in Los Angeles: both Bosch and Delaware live in the Hollywood Hills, and have to rebuild their houses. Bosch, after a major earthquake. Delaware after a psychopath burns it down.

Delaware has a longtime live-in girlfriend (Robin) and works with homicide detective Milo Sturgis. Bosch got married, got divorced, had a daughter with his wife that the wife kept secret. The wife was eventually killed, and Bosch took over as a single parent.

If I were into writing fan fiction, I would write a story about a case that brought all three together — boom!

The Delaware/Sturgis series has gone on so long that descriptions form a historical record — at the beginning, Delaware is computer-phobic. By now, he can ring the chimes on the Internet like a four-armed organist playing a Bach fugue. At the beginning, much was made of abuse of Milo Sturgis by other LAPD officers because he’s gay. By now, he has his own posse of “baby D’s” who eagerly work with him from his closet-sized private office sequestered from the main detective bullpen. (His rank now as lieutenant and the private office are explained in one of the books.) Time passing also sees the adoption of a stray French bulldog christened Spike, who prefers Robin over Alex; Spike’s eventual death from old age; and the arrival of Blanche, in all ways Spike’s opposite except in breed.

The series even spawned a spin-off series featuring Petra Connor, another LAPD detective introduced in one of the Delaware books.

(Bosch also spawned spin-offs, most notably featuring Bosch’s half-brother Mickey Haller, played by Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer. Haller’s daughter and Bosch’s daughter eventually attend Chapman University together.)

When the Bough Breaks excerpt

The first Alex Delaware novels opens at his home in the Hollywood Hills, not long after he has retired to live off the proceeds of real estate investments. Delaware is a child psychologist, and a “former over-achiever” who has settled nicely into a life of loafing. His plans for a leisurely morning bath are interrupted when his friend, Los Angeles Police Detective Milo Sturgis, walks through the (unlocked) front door:

Milo is a big man — six-two, two-twenty — with a big man’s way of going loose and dangly when he gets off his feet. This morning he looked like an oversize rag doll slumped against the cushions [of Delaware’s old leather sofa] — a doll with a broad, pleasant face, almost boyish except for the acne pits that peppered the skin, and the tired eyes. The eyes were startlingly green and rimmed with red, topped by shaggy dark brows and a Kennedyesque shock of thick black hair. His nose was large and high-bridged, his lips full, childishly soft. Sideburns five years out-of-date trailed down the scarred cheeks.

As usual he wore ersatz Brooks Brothers: olive-green gabardine suit, yellow button-down, mint and gold rep stripe tie, oxblood wing tips. The total effect was as preppy as W.C. Fields in red skivvies.

Kellerman takes time for detailed descriptions of characters and their clothing. Note the wing tips! They are later shoved to the back of Milo’s closet in favor of desert boots.

The Museum of Desire excerpt

And here is Delaware introducing Milo in the latest novel, after leaving Robin and Blanche behind to drive to a murder scene off Benedict Canyon:

My best friend has closed over three hundred fifty murders and he’s never lost his empathy or his sense of outrage. Notifying families still rips at him. He eats too much, sleeps poorly, and often neglects himself while working two, three days in a row.

Once you stop caring, you’re useless.

Milo leads by example so the same approach is taken by the three younger D’s who work with him when he can pry them away from other assignments.

When he can’t, it’s just him. And sometimes me. Rules are often bent. Milo was a gay soldier when gay soldiers didn’t exist, a gay copy when LAPD was still raiding gay bars. Things have changed but he continues to disdain stupid regulations and often overlooks social niceties in a paramilitary organization that prizes conformity.

Murder solve rates have dropped but his rate remains highest in the department so the brass looks the other way.

…Bulky, slope-sholdered, full-faced and jowly, with pallid skin ravaged by youthful acne, a high-bridged nose, and a curiously sensitive mouth that tended to purse. His hair was coal black except where white seeped from temple to sideburn. What Lieutenant Milo Bernard Sturgis calls his skunk stripes.

He saw me and walked around the limo. Brown suit, brown shirt, limp black tie, gray desert boots. The only splash of color, conspicuously green eyes brighter than the morning.