January 11, 2010

Indian burial rite in Bones

In this crime thriller, bodies turn up in a nature preserve formerly inhabited by Indians.

Bones (Alex Delaware, No. 23) (Mass Market Paperback)From Publishers Weekly

In this run-of-the-mill police procedural from bestseller Kellerman, his 23rd novel to feature L.A. consulting psychologist Alex Delaware (after Compulsion), high school miscreant Chance Brandt has been assigned to perform community service at the Bird Marsh, a nature sanctuary near Marina del Rey. After Chance dismisses as a prank an anonymous phone call warning him that there's a corpse buried in the marsh, Lt. Milo Sturgis, now Special Case Investigator for the LAPD, and Sturgis's team find four bodies there, all women missing their right hand. When Sturgis identifies one of the victims as Selena Bass, who worked as a piano teacher for the wealthy Vander family, the police focus on Travis Huck, the manager of the Vanders' Pacific Palisades estate, as the prime suspect because Travis has a criminal past. Kellerman fans wanting more of the same should be satisfied, though Sturgis gets less benefit from Delaware's psychological expertise than usual.
Comment:  Early on, someone suggests the bodies are part of an Indian burial rite. They quickly dismiss this possibility, but it's worth mentioning.

On the one hand, placing bodies facing east, with one hand missing, doesn't sound like something a small band of hunter-gatherers would do. Rather, it sounds like something done in an empire like that of the Egyptians or Aztecs. You know, cut off the servant's hand so she can't steal the lord's riches, or something like that.

On the other hand, the "bird marsh" is one of the few places in Los Angeles that retains a pre-Columbian feel to it. You can imagine Indians living there a few centuries ago. A criminal would have no reason to emulate the Indians' burial practices, but at least someone knew about their presence.

Incidentally, the bird marsh is the Ballona Wetlands I visited recently. I don't know why Jonathan Kellerman didn't use its real name. Or why he calls UCLA "the U," a nickname Angelenos don't use. Kellerman uses the real names of streets and other places, so why not these public institutions?

Anyway, the mystery's solution may be run-of-the-mill, but I thought the journey was quite entertaining. Kellerman's dialogue and descriptions crackle compared to some I've read. Maybe it was John Rubinstein's excellent reading on the audiobook, but I found Bones to be a real page-turner (or CD-changer). Like eating potato chips, it was hard to stop once I started.

The Alex Delaware novels aren't quite as good overall as the Harry Bosch and Jack Reacher books I've recommend to people. But I'd say this is one of the better ones. Rob's rating: 8.5 of 10.

For more on the local Indians, see Indians in Culver City. For more on the books, see Review of Double Homicide and The Best Indian Books.

Below:  Good place to dump dead bodies?

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