THE BUTCHER'S THEATER by Jonathan Kellerman


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Kellerman's mysteries featuring psychologist-sleuth Alex Delaware (When the Bough Breaks, etc.), though intelligently written and thickly textured with realistic illness/therapy detail, have been marred by slow pacing, overwrought effects, and disappointing windups. This new novel--a wildly overblown (640 pp.) police-vs.-psycho thriller set in Jerusalem--is even more of a mixed bag, with page-by-page strengths lavished on a humdrum formula production. A 15-year-old Arab girl is found murdered, gruesomely mutilated and bizarrely laid out, in a Mount Scopus ravine. So Inspector Daniel Sharavi--Yemenite Jew, scarred war-veteran, warm family man--assembles a special cop-team: acerbic old-pro Nahum; part-Chinese muscleman Yosef; Daoud, a bias-sensitive Arab; brash rookie Avi, a flashy ladies' man. And fairly soon the investigating cops are convinced that the girl, a runaway from an oppressive old-world family, was murdered by her shady boyfriend--who was in turn killed by the girl's vengeful, deformed brother. Then, however, a second woman--a Tripoli-born prostitute and drug-addict--is found dead in a forest, identically savaged, obviously victim #2 of a maniac serial-killer. (The reader has known this all along, thanks to periodic close-ups, lurid and shrill, of the nameless psycho.) A third victim is also young, female, Arab--leading to heightened ethnic tensions, which are exacerbated by an unscrupulous newsman. Sharavi, therefore, goes after both sex offenders and rabble-rousers: among the transparent red herrings are a Kahane-like rabbi/racist, an Hasidic child-molester, and a creepy monk. But, with help from the FBI, the Jerusalem cops eventually close in on the real psycho--who, true to genre-cliche (cf., among scores of others, Thomas Boyle's recent PostMortem Effects), snatches Sharavi's small daughter during the chase/showdown finale. Despite graphic swatches of psychosexual case-history, Kellerman's killer--a foulmouthed, masturbating amalgam of hatreds ("Don't move, kikefuck")--remains utterly unconvincing. The treatment of Israel's internal Arab/Jewish conflict, though timely, is annoyingly superficial; the assorted character-touches--like Sharavi's Yemenite back. ground--are intriguing yet ultimately disappointing, as it becomes clear that a thin, derivative scenario is being mechanically padded out to Big-Book dimensions. So, while there's enough solid professionalism here to fill a 300-page police-procedural, at more than double that length this sags and flattens--offering neither the focused, atmospheric suspense of Gorky Park and Pattern Crimes nor the chilling intensity of such other psychomanhunts as Red Dragon and Nightbloom.
Pub Date: March 22nd, 1988
ISBN: 0345460677
Page count: 746pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1988


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