“The Wedding Guest” by Jonathan Kellerman is number thirty-four in the Alex Delaware series, but that should not discourage new readers. Even though I have read several other novels by Kellerman, I missed the Alex Delaware series; however, I had no trouble following along. The book is structured as Delaware’s first person narrative, so it took a little while to discern the last names and exact roles of the participants, but the narrative was clear, cool, and rational.
The book opens with a scene that is every woman’s nightmare. Bridesmaid Leanza is waiting in a very long line for the public bathroom at the wedding venue, a converted strip joint. Out of desperation, she runs upstairs to the bathroom near the wedding party’s dressing rooms. There she finds the unthinkable, a body.
This was to have been the happiest day of her life for bride Brearely “Brears” Rapfogel and soon to be husband Garrett Burdette. “It’s terrible, worse than terrible, it’s it’s … tragic” LAPD consultant Dr. Alex, Delaware is called to the scene by Lieutenant Sturgis Milo. No one admits to knowing the victim, surprising since she was obviously dressed for the occasion in a designer gown and expertly coiffed black hair. “Hair falls that nicely, you’ve got a good cut.” The guests were mostly from the bride’s side, but were both the killer and the victim on the official guest list? Clues seem to be rare, but the CSI investigator finds what looks like a needle puncture.
The plot is conversation driven and the dialogue is intelligent, plausible, and revealing. Readers get to know the various players through their conversational style and the little things that they let slip in the conversations. Readers investigate right with the team and learn where guests were, how they feel about what happened, and how they feel about everyone else and everything else. Pieces of the puzzle fall into place, gradually, but it is difficult to discern who is a victim and who is a co-conspirator, who is an innocent bystander and who is a murderous psychopath. When the final picture emerges, it is scary and frantic.
Kellerman’s descriptions paint vibrant pictures of every participant:
“Milo had on one of his fossilized gray suits , a white wash-’ n’-wear shirt, and a skinny brown tie. Respectable enough if you didn’t get too close.”
“A small plain girl with dark eyes as animate as coffee beans and a husky, strangely flat voice that verged on electronically processed. She’d piled her ponytail into a careless top thatch. Errant brown hair frizzed like tungsten filament.”
And every location:
“An empty box from a West Hollywood baker and the crumbs that went with it littered his desktop. Ditto for a grease-splotched take-out carton from a pizza joint near the station. A mug filled with cold coffee sat perilously close to the edge.”
“The Wedding Guest” can certainly be enjoyed as a stand-alone mystery with a perpetrator who will be a surprise. I received a review copy of “The Wedding Guest” from Jonathan Kellerman, Random House Ballantine Publishing, and NetGalley. The pace is slow but steady, and the main characters show companionship and a determination to solve the crime. Along the way, there is both humor and thoughtful analysis of the human behavior. It is appropriate for readers who have not read the previous thirty-three books, as well as fans of the series.