Heartbreak Hotel (a book review)


Heartbreak Hotel
A lot things breaking at that hotel…

Bias alert! I love mystery novels. Now you know.

I’ve now read three of these Alex Delaware novels by Jonathan Kellerman. He’s written a lot more than three, so it’s a wonder I’ve only just now made it this far. Here’s what happened: I found the first one I tried on the boring side. I liked the characters, but it felt like it didn’t go anywhere. The second one was marginally better. I didn’t think I would get to three, but someone gifted this one to me, so I felt obliged. I’m glad a read it.

Procedurals have tough job sometimes, between constructing a mystery and creating a logical path to the resolution. A writer can get bogged down in the wrong parts and either deliver a shallow thriller or a flat crime story of little consequence. Heartbreak Hotel didn’t do those things. It jumped right in to a murder mystery, giving me something so curious that I had to know just what the heck was going on. By the time the clues began piling up, I found that I NEEDED to know what was going on.

You won’t find shoot-em-ups here. Of course, there are bad guys with bad motives trying to slip through the detectives’ net, and more than one body will turn up. But the central mystery of Heartbreak Hotel isn’t who did it and why, but rather who was the victim really? And what could they have done to lead to their demise?

In this case, the victim is Thalia Mars, who is about to turn one-hundred. She has no heirs, no apparent enemies, and no close friends. Only by digging deep into her past can detectives understand how she could possibly be a target. There’s just one problem of course: they can’t find any past to dig up.

It may not sound exciting to read about this fictional character study, but the author weaves it all together with the immediate case. As suspects crop up, clues to Thalia’s life will follow along. As those clues crop up, clues to the means and motive of the killer will follow. It’s a well-done balancing act that never strays too far from its purpose. It’s compact and evenly paced, which makes even minor revelations exciting because you know they’re leading to  bigger ones. So, you turn the page and keep reading.

Great story with a clever premise and a fascinating central character. Even if she is dead.

I wonder now if my literary tastes have changed and that’s why I enjoyed this one. I don’t need big action and outlandish plots these days. But, when I read mysteries, I do need characters and a story that grabs my interest early on and then teases my along with perfectly placed nuggets of information that make me want to turn just one more page to see what it means.

Heartbreak Hotel delivered that for me.


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