cover image Billy Straight

Billy Straight

Jonathan Kellerman. Random House Inc, $25.95 (467pp) ISBN 978-0-679-45959-0

Although this is only the second of Kellerman's 14 novels not to feature psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware (the first was Butcher's Theater, 1988), it has all the author's familiar strengths: a broad cast of well-defined characters, a fast-moving plot and themes sponged from the daily news yet turned fresh. (And Delaware makes a brief appearance at the end.) Twelve-year-old Billy Straight, a precocious homeless kid with a taste for reading, flees Los Angeles in terror after witnessing a murder in Griffith Park. The homicide inquiry is headed by Petra Connor, a determined, intuitive detective, and her partner, Stu Bishop, who is distracted by a family tragedy. The murder victim turns out to be Lisa Ramsey, ex-wife of the famous, and abusive, Cart Ramsey, who plays a private eye on a late-night television series. Kellerman does a fine job revealing how memories of the Simpson case shadow the Ramsey investigation, affecting the ways Petra and Stu are allowed to go about their work. The search for Billy by the cops and several villains forces a comparison with John Grisham's The Client, but Kellerman's novel is far more complex, switching points of view among a multitude of characters and amid a series of distinctive subplots. By the dramatic climax, Kellerman has pushed a number of familiar buttons--but with enough panache and surprises to satisfy his most demanding fans. (Jan.)