I’ll Catch You

Posted: December 1, 2013 in Book reviews

by James Kellerman

I guess it was the name Kellerman that drew me to this book, though it wasn’t until after I bought it that I discovered that Jesse Kellerman is the son of American novelists Jonathan and Faye Kellerman. Now I’ve been a big fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels for many years, so I was interested to see what his son’s work was like.

I think it would be fairest to say “Very different”…

I think there really is a rule that says you shouldn’t trust any book that doesn’t actually tell you what it’s about, or any book that feels the need to talk to you about how great it is, especially when it’s one that doesn’t tell you what it’s about.

The blurb on the back of the book is as follows:

We want to tell you more about this novel. We wish we could explain how spectacular and absolutely unexpected it is; how it will burn itself onto your brain for ever. But we could never do it justice. The only way you’ll understand it is to read it.

Really I should have put it back there and then…

Perhaps the worst thing about this book is that, initially at least, it’s very interesting. The hero, Arthur Pfefferkorn, is a creative writing teacher and frustrated novelist, a man who wrote one critically acclaimed literary novel many moons ago but has never been able to follow it up. His estranged best friend however is the immensely successful author of a series of spy thrillers under the pen name of William de Vallée.

When William dies Arthur attends the funeral in LA. After spending the night with the widow (a woman he’s loved for decades) Arthur finds an almost complete manuscript for William’s latest thriller. Without thinking Pfefferkorn takes the manuscript home with him where, after changing the names and combining it with a partial story of his own from many years before, he produces a hybrid thriller that becomes an instant best seller.

Suddenly Pfefferkorn is as rich and successful as he’s always wanted to be, but as you might imagine this is where things start to go very wrong…in more ways than one.

Up until this point the book’s actually quite enjoyable. Sure it’s hard to see where exactly it’s going, but Pfefferkorn’s journey from loser to winner is artfully done, and if the tone of the novel had remained the same I’d probably have given it a tentative thumbs up. Nothing earth shattering, quite a comfy thriller, but diverting enough.

Unfortunately once Pfefferkorn becomes a bestselling novelist the story takes a left turn into crazy town, and a slow burning literary thriller suddenly becomes a 1960s Mission Impossible/Flint/Man from UNCLE style spy thriller, only with all the verve, coolness and fun sucked out of it. Suddenly Pfefferkorn is on his way to the ridiculously monikered, utterly made up country of Zlabia, a place divided into Communist and Capitalist halves where we’re subjected to terrible poetry and myriad discussions on the subject of moustaches and root vegetables.

Now don’t get me wrong, the fact that the book shifts tone to a comedy romp isn’t a terrible idea, what’s terrible is the execution, and you really have to wonder what the author was thinking. It isn’t funny, and it isn’t much of a romp, in fact it’s a bit of a slog, and by the time I’d made it to the pretentious, existential ending I was ready to throw the book out of the window.

From now on I’m sticking to the elder Kellerman’s work!

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