Reviewed: September 3, 2008
By: Jonathan Kellerman / read by John Rubinstein
Publisher: Random House Audio
5 CDs. 6.5 hours, $34.00
You wonder about the choices publishers make for cover art sometimes. The jacket
for Compulsion shows a solitary figure standing on what appears to be a walkway
leading out to a pier on which there is a large tent-shaped building. It’s
sunset and the sea is aglow with the day’s dying embers.
There may be some highly symbolical meaning to all of this, but none of it has
ANYTHING to do with the plot of this Alex Delaware mystery. For that we would
need lonely highways, stolen black cars and perhaps a knife or two.
The story begins in the third person, with Kat driving home from a bar, somewhat
the worse for an evening’s partying when her car quit son a lonely highway.
Fortunately the old lady in the Bentley comes by and offers to pick her up.
And that is the last anyone sees of Kat until a possible connection causes Detective
Milo Sturgis to run a dog powered search in a vacant lot not far from where
Kat had finally passed out.
By then, the owner of the Bentley had reported that it had been boosted from
his driveway and that he had found it a few blocks from his home - and that
there was a minute smear of blood on the passenger seat.
By then a man wearing a plaid cap had hopped out of another stolen car and had
methodically stabbed to death a retired school teacher who was picking up her
paper from the end of her walk.
By then the rookie cop who was called in on the Bentley case had wondered aloud
if there might not be some connection between the two stolen vehicles, and if
there might not be another body somewhere.
By then Sturgis had called on his good friend Dr. Alex Delaware to consult on
this really odd case.
Delaware is a clinical psychologist who has been helping the LAPD as a sidebar
to his regular work for many years now, usually on a case by case basis. This
time the department chief has decided to give him quasi-departmental status
and ID and put him on a retainer, so he has more time to devote to this. Sturgis
is a gay cop who looks more like a football player who is past his prime. He
is also pretty much an independent operator after the events of a few books
back. He gets results and is allowed the latitude to do so.
I must have missed a book or two in Delaware’s life, He and Robin are
back together after a painful separation. She is a luthier (maker of stringed
instruments) who has sometimes had a problem with Alex’s investigative
sideline. That seems to have been resolved. She has left the musician she was
travelling with. Alex is no longer courting another psychologist. Things are
back to normal in the Delaware world. The coy are breeding in the fish pond.
They have a new dog, but the other one had been getting on, so that just indicates
the passage of time.
The pattern that emerges is that the killer likes to steal hot black cars, use
them in the commission of his murders, and then return them to just about where
he took them from, leaving almost no clues at all - just enough to indicate
that SOMETHING has been done, but not what exactly. It appears very much as
if the killer has a compulsion to let people know that he’s been very
The possibility of a pattern leads Delaware and Sturgis to widen the net in
terms of time frame, to dig into the past and see if there are any other deaths
that involve stolen cars used in this way. They find a few. It means there’s
a peculiar sort of serial killer on the loose.
As the investigation continues it also appears that the killer has a compulsion
to “help” people. His murders all appear to bring benefit to someone
connected to the victim in some way; they inherit something, or some wrong,
real or imaginery, is redressed. This makes him really strange, because there
is no pattern to his choice of victims. They may be male or female, young or
old, single or a couple. The pattern cannot be predicted and is only discernible
after the fact, when you can make the connections.
This mystery was compelling enough that it kept us from worrying too much about
the state of the Taylor Highway between Chicken and Eagle and then out again
all the way to Dawson. In fact, we sat in our driveway at home for about 10
minutes listening to the end of the story, while our dog looked on from the
porch wondering what we were up to.
John Rubenstein has narrated all of the Delaware audio-books and always does
a great job maintaining the voices and the mood.