Trouble by Jesse Kellerman

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Paperback, 368 pages

Published: October 30, 2007 by Jove (1st Published January 1, 2007)

Setting: New York City

Literary Awards:  ITW Thriller Award Nominee for Best Novel (2008)

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Jonah Stem is a medical student living in New York City with his eccentric roommate, Lance, an aimless stoner who’s devoting much of his time to starring in his own private version of a reality TV show. Jonah is caught up in grueling internship work and helping care for someone who’s an important part of his past. Already driven to the point of exhaustion, he stumbles upon a brutal scene.

…he saw a woman on all fours. Behind her stood a man in a flaccid overcoat several times too big. He seemed in no particular hurry, slumped against a Dumpster, watching her crawl away.

oh my God he stabbed me

Despite the pressing heat, she was dressed in a down jacket and dark stockings. She jerked like a windup toy, listing to avoid her left hand, her left arm dripping with dark black blood. Screaming and screaming and screaming.

Jonah rushes in to protect the young woman, accidentally killing her attacker. He stumbles reluctantly into heroism, cringing through a brief stint in the media spotlight. He also faces a potential wrongful death suit. And to further complicate things, he plunges into an affair with Eve, the woman he intervened to save. He soon discovers she has a dark side to her nature that’s beyond anything he could have imagined.

Jesse Kellerman has an eloquent and very witty writing style; this, along with skillful pacing, keeps this novel flowing. It is enhanced by a vivid portrayal of medical school life. Jonah’s description of everything happening around him let me imagine I was walking in his shoes and often made me laugh out loud.

The medical student’s real job during rounds, however, was to carry The Bucket, a turquoise emesis basin filled with gauze, dressing, scissors, syringes, gloves. Tegaderm patches in three sizes; if the resident called for a medium, and all you had was small and large, the world screeched to a halt as you sprinted to the supply closet. Lots and lots of Surgilube. Especially on a colorectal. Yokogawa would stick out his glove. Lube me, Superman. Jonah felt like a hot dog salesman.

This author also has a knack for exploring the dark side of human psychology, reminding me of his father, popular author Jonathan Kellerman. At times it went further over the line than I cared to go, but I was impressed with this writer’s talent.

Unfortunately the story itself felt derivative and predictable, and there was not much substance to the mystery. I anticipated a few unexpected twists near the end to save this novel from being too much like other books and movies in this genre. However, the ending was unsurprising and felt a bit rushed. There were also several threads of the story left dangling. If they’d been fully developed and resolved, they might have enriched this rather one-note noirish thriller.

If you enjoy stories in which basically decent characters have affairs with spectacularly sociopathic people, you might want to give this novel a go. Due to the strong though somewhat over-the-top writing, I will probably try something else by this author. However, I think mystery and thriller aficionados are not likely to be dazzled by Trouble.

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