Kellerman Senior (Heartbreak Hotel, 2017, etc.) and Junior (Potboiler, 2012, etc.) team up again in this tale of a case so cold it’s been marked solved for years.
No matter what his daughter says, all the evidence suggests that former Berkeley psychology professor Walter Rennert died of natural causes after falling down a flight of stairs in his own home. But Tatiana Rennert-Delavigne tells Deputy Clay Edison, of the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau, that she can’t forget the remarkably similar death 12 years ago of Rennert’s graduate student Nicholas Linstad. Rennert and Linstad had already achieved the worst kind of fame imaginable when Julian Triplett, one of the subjects they’d chosen for a study of how exposure to violent images affects learning and impulse control, fatally stabbed Rennert’s lab assistant, Berkeley undergrad Donna Zhao, back in 1993, and Tatiana would dearly love to see her father posthumously vindicated of any role, however unwilling, in Donna’s murder. As Clay quickly realizes, however, there’s no obvious reason to reopen the case. Triplett confessed years ago and served his time in prison, and both Linstad and Rennert are dead, the latter of nothing more sinister than a ruptured aorta. So Clay, whose interest in Tatiana gradually develops an amatory dimension, has to battle everyone he meets, from uncooperative witnesses to the defensive counterparts who handled the original investigation to his own boss, who wants him to stick to his own caseload. Clay’s own work on the case is unrelenting, and his heart is clearly in the right place, but neither the Kellermans’ flat prose nor the dearth of interesting suspects nor the plodding detection generates much momentum. Even so, the hero’s job gives his perspective welcome novelty, and the treatment is never less than professional.
First of a series apparently aimed at readers willing to invest their time and attention in the hope of more excitement down the road.