Since the classic movie "Laura," it has become a stock device for the hero of a mystery to become obsessed with finding the killer of a beautiful woman. Very often, we find that the dead woman had some kind of sordid past, and it is not unusual in modern noirish thrillers that she had a connection to the sex industry.
Psychologist-turned-mystery-writer Jonathan Kellerman , however, turns the keen eye of his psychologist-turned-mystery-solver Alex Delaware on something often given a free pass (or glorified) by popular entertainment - "classy," soft-core nudie mags.
In "Flesh and Blood," Kellerman thoroughly deglamorizes a certain magazine publisher known for big parties, hedonism on a grand scale and a famous mansion full of beautiful women. Yep, that's the one.
Delaware is surprised to get a phone call from the distraught mother of a former patient. Lauren Teague had been brought to him as a teenager by parents who disagreed over the worth of therapy, and he was dumped after only a few sessions.
His only other contact with Lauren had been a coincidence, as she worked as a stripper at a bachelor party Alex reluctantly had attended and left when things got raunchy.
A defiant Lauren called him once to defend her choices, and that was that. Or so he thought.
But Lauren is missing, and her mother claims that Delaware had been an influential figure in her life. Delaware, with a certain amount of hubris, sees the chance to perhaps rectify a past failure and agrees to help. However, his investigation only leads to Lauren's bound body, shot execution style and discarded in a Dumpster.
In tracking Lauren's past, Delaware finds that she has been living and going to college on a bank account that seems far too large. Her roommate says that she was part of a psychology research project, but her professors deny that.
However, one professor's protestations that he can't remember a thing about the beautiful student ring hollow to Delaware, especially when he finds the man is involved in an off-campus "research project" about "intimacy."
When it turns out that the professor is the son of Tony Duke, publisher of Duke Magazine, Alex's investigative antennae go way up.
Lauren's case also may be tied to the disappearance of another beautiful psychology student two years before.
Is there a serial killer working? Or is the "Intimacy Project" a recruiting front for something sinister?
And what about Lauren's sociopathically cold-blooded estranged father, who now is putting on a full court press to get his hands on her bank account?
Besides being a well crafted and ingenious mystery with good characters and smart dialogue, "Flesh and Blood" explores the resulting false intimacy when sex is divorced from commitment; the importance of fathers in developing a healthy, nonsexual intimacy in a young woman's life; and the desperate lengths some will go in trying to find something that even approximates that intimacy when it is absent.
Kellerman is harsh toward older men who take advantage of that yearning.
By the time the story is through, there is more pity involved than envy toward the king of hedonism who is nearing the end of his life alone.
"Flesh and Blood" is Jonathan Kellerman at his best - insightful, moral and suspenseful.