- - Friday, April 20, 2012

SILENT PARTNER
By Jonathan Kellerman
Adapted and illustrated by Ande Parks and Michael Gaydos
Villard, $23, 192 pages

Jonathan Kellerman is the patriarch of a family of best-selling writers. Where he went, his family soon followed. Wife Faye Kellerman is the creator of the Peter Decker mysteries and co-author of two books with her husband. A couple of their children, Jesse and Aliza, have taken up the family business. Jesse has written novels and plays and Aliza co-wrote a book with her mother and has more in the offing. On the strength of the first comic book adaptation of Mr. Kellerman’s work, “Silent Partner,” can we expect more graphic Kellermania in the near future?

Hard to say, but sales do not look promising. When last I checked, it was just south of 200,000 in the Amazon sales rankings. The adaptation, by writer Ande Parks and artist Michael Gaydos, is extremely competent. It’s rendered in stark, stylish black and white, which I appreciated. But that format typically appeals to only a subset of comics fans. It was never serialized to generate interest in the graphic novel and is available thus far only in hardcover at the pretty steep price of $23 a pop. Publisher Random House is an 800-pound gorilla of traditional publishing, to be sure. However, imprint Villard is more of an oversized chimp in the comics world.

Plus, of all the Jonathan Kellerman novels to adapt, one has to wonder: Why wold you start with this one? Genre specialists have assigned Mr. Kellerman’s work to the category of gritty “psychological thriller,” and that is literally true. The author was a distinguished psychologist in real life who decided to write about what he knew when the literary bug drew blood. His first and most enduring character, who has appeared in almost two dozen novels, is Alex Delaware, a psychologist and amateur sleuth. “Silent Partner” was not the first Alex Delaware novel, nor the most popular. That garland probably belongs to the first of the series, “When the Bough Breaks.”

Nor, it needs to be added, is “Silent Partner” anywhere near the best of the Alex Delaware novels. It starts out promising enough, with our hero in a desert in “Mexico … somewhere,” blindfolded, with one foot on a land mine. But the story drags from there. The soup has all the right ingredients to be a good crime novel: an old flame, mysterious deaths, evil twins, crooked cops, blackmail porn, incest, a Howard Hughes-like billionaire hovering in the background. But the right ingredients are not used in the right proportions.

After the setup, we flash back to the story “three weeks ago” that brought our hero the desert. This is a common-enough plot structure, but by the time the story catches up to him again, it’s possible you’ll have forgotten all about Alex Delaware’s peril. I certainly had. The problem is a lack of motivation. Nowhere along the way are we effectively made to care about the fate of the mystery woman from our hero’s past, most of the other characters or, really, the hero himself.

We’re supposed to bond instantly with Dr. Delaware because his girlfriend is leaving, but that one either works for you or it doesn’t. The side plot, a legal case over a vehicular manslaughter accident that left a child traumatized, never comes to much. Milo Sturgis, the large, gay homicide detective who serves as Delaware’s de-facto sidekick in the Los Angeles Police Department, we might care about, but his part in this mystery is more of a bit role. Worse, the book ends with a seven-page prose preview of Mr. Kellerman’s next novel, “Victims.”

It’s worse because the preview of “Victims” is much more compelling than anything that precedes it. In those seven pages, Mr. Kellerman manages to kindle more interest in a dead, unidentified woman in her 50s with an “old avocado-colored fridge free of photos or magnets or mementos” than he and his adapters managed for a gorgeous, troubled woman in the previous 169 pages. I shall look forward to reading that story in any medium.

• Jeremy Lott, editor of Real Clear Books and Real Clear Religion, is writing a book about death.