As I have mentioned in previous reviews of Alex Delaware novels, I am a huge fan of Jonathan Kellerman who has been disappointed by the progressive deterioration in the quality of Alex Delaware novels. The nadir was the previous entry Mystery, which had an absurd and unpleasant plot, conventional gore to shock the reader rather than any chills and characters who had become entirely divorced from reality doing predictable shticks--while the author's main concern seems to be keeping alive plot lines from prior books and planned sequels.
I would not have even picked this one up, except it was available on Vine and I retain enough affection or the earlier and non-Delaware books to give it one more try. I am glad I did. From the first line of the book, "This one was different," it promises and delivers a fresh, exciting mystery, and an education to boot.
The basic story is familiar enough, a series of brutal murders with psychotic mutilations calls for a combination of meticulous procedural police work from the bottom up, and brilliant psychological insight from the top down. As in the best novels in this series, Alex and Milo play off each other effortlessly. Important clues are (or seem to be) a man in a heavy shearling coat inappropriate for the weather, some unpleasant interactions the victims had before being killed and details that point faintly to mysterious treatments in a long-closed psychiatric facility. There are some terrific recreations of places in the book, Alex doesn't spend the whole time in mildly-depressed musings next to his koi pond listening to Robin's wood shaving. The characters are true, but their minor issues and quirks don't overwhelm the story. There are even two excellent action scenes, although one is cut a bit short for my taste.
I don't know what happened to Mr. Kellerman, but Victims is as crisp and elegant as any books in this series. Milo and Alex are real people again, who can surprise you, and who you can imagine might be real. The plot turns on Kellerman's psychological expertise, both in the setting and the minds of the characters. There's gore aplenty, but the chills are honest and psychological, not pornographic. The plot is logical and compelling. The resolution is a surprise, but one that seems inevitable after it is revealed.
All-in-all, a classic mystery from a master. I'm not ready to say it's as good as my favorites, like When the Bough Breaks or Billy Straight, it takes time to make a judgment like that. But at least it's a candidate, and that is a tremendous pleasure. If you are new to Kellerman, start with his classics, but be sure you get to this one. If you are like me and have been disappointed by some recent books, forget your qualms and buy this one. If you loved the recent Alex Delaware's, I don't understand you enough to have any useful recommendations.