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Sunstroke By Jesse KellermanSynopsis – When an earthquake hits Los Angeles, Gloria Mendez checks there’s no damage to her apartment then heads off to drop in on her friend Barb before going to the office to see what damage has been done to her boss’s collection of china figurines. It sounds like an unlikely scenario, but Gloria is more than a little obsessed with her boss Carl Perreira. Carl’s out of town on a trip to Mexico, and Gloria wants to make sure that everything’s fine at the office where she helps Carl to run his joke-shop supplies empire.

The china figures are bashed, battered and broken, but the biggest worry is waiting for her on the answer machine – a series of garbled messages from Carl that indicate there’s been an accident. Despite the final message telling her that everything’s fine and he’ll call her, it’s clear that something’s wrong. For one thing, he hasn’t called but when she speaks to the police, nobody seems to want to help her. Gloria hops in her car and heads off to Mexico to try to get to the bottom of Carl’s disappearance.

Gloria is lonely and love-lorn. At 36 she has a short marriage and an amicable divorce behind her, her early dreams of a medical career were dashed by a sick mother, and she’s suffering from a general sense that there ought to be a bit more to life. Working on little more than a hunch, she finds herself in the god-forsaken ghost town of Aguas Vivas, trying to make sense of what happened. With a ‘fill-it-in-yourself’ death certificate and an urn full of ashes, she’s got to decide whether to accept the word of the local police chief that Carl’s dead or do her own investigation.

By turns increasingly unlikely, Gloria soon discovers that Carl’s financial affairs are a bit more complicated than she expected. Who is the mysterious and wealthy Mr Gerusha whose name appears on the deeds to Carl’s house? Why has Carl been making big donations to local children’s charities? How was money taken out of Carl’s bank account after he was allegedly already dead? And are things what they seem with the attractive stranger who turns up claiming to be Carl’s son? Nobody else seems to care what happens and the more she digs, the clearer it is that Carl Perreira has been hiding a lot of secrets and if Gloria doesn’t try to make sense of the situation and find out what’s really happened to Carl, nobody else will.

The Name’s Familiar

Jesse Kellerman (it’s a he, not a she) has a great pedigree. He’s the son of thriller writers Jonathon and Faye Kellerman and does appear to be a bit of a chip off the old block. This is his first novel and was released in 2006. Whilst the twists and turns of the plot aren’t up to the complexity of his father’s work, and he sensibly avoids the psychobabble and fixation on Judaism that are common to the work of both his parents (though apparently young Jesse also has a degree in psychology), he’s put together a perfectly acceptable debut novel. Personally if my name was as gender-ambiguous as Jesse, I might have chosen to start with a male protagonist and avoid the obvious questions of whether I could write a good novel from the point of view of the opposite sex, but on the whole I was quite impressed by Sunstroke. It’s hard to see that Gloria could be a potential serial-character because her involvement is too tied up in the personal relationship (or lack of it) with her boss, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both of the senior Kellerman’s have protagonists that get a bit wearing after a few reads.

“On the whole, I’d have to say this was an entirely acceptable first novel and I’ll certainly be looking out for his other two published novels.”

Kellerman paints some vivid images of the unlovable little town of Aguas Vivas with its record-breaking cemetery, its run down cinema and its competing monumental masons. I could feel the fetid air of the old cinema, see the cockroaches on the filthy floor of the motel and imagine the shimmer of the heat haze on the lake. He creates a police chief so offensive as to be almost endearing in his sheer unpleasantness, and in Gloria we get someone that many of us will recognise and relate to; who hasn’t met a secretary with a slightly unhealthy and unrequited obsession with her much older boss? In Carl’s son Carlos, he provides us with a way to soften Gloria’s hard edges and most of the rather small cast of players are quite well fleshed out. There are some weaknesses, most obviously the way in which Gloria stumbles across the location of Aguas Vivas a little too easily and on only the most scratchy of phone messages, and some plot turns are just a touch too convenient for their own good, but on the whole, the story is easy to follow and doesn’t require us to suspend our disbelief too greatly. Key aspects of the plot are not sign-posted in advance so badly that you know exactly where you are going. I didn’t know – but I did care – about whether Carl was really alive or dead and whether Gloria would get to the bottom of his past. On the whole, I’d have to say this was an entirely acceptable first novel and I’ll certainly be looking out for his other two published novels. The only mystery that remained at the end of the novel was the title – I have no idea why it was called Sunstroke.

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by Jesse Kellerman

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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