Twisted Stretched

TwistedI was recently reminded of Jonathan Kellerman’s novel Twisted. It came up in a conversation about Ayn Rand’s novels. There are many things to dislike about them: bad plots and ridiculous characters come easily to mind. But without doubt the most annoying thing about her novels is how she puts her philosophy in the mouths and minds of her two-dimensional characters. John Galt’s 8 hour long speech is the most striking example of this.

I stopped reading Twisted about 100 pages in because his philosophy was seeping into his characters’ thoughts. It is rare that I just put down a book, but I was very angry. But after mentioning the book, it started to bug me that I didn’t know how the plot ended. The novel started fairly well with an unusual string of murders—a new kind of serial killer. So I set out to find the book and finish it.

Finding the book turned out to be harder than I had anticipated. It turns out that Kellerman has written a gazillion novels, most with similar titles: Rage, Deception, Therapy. And similar plots. What’s more, he has written so many books that people tend to subdivide them by the series: Alex Delaware is the main one, but there are now five in the Petra Connor series that Twisted is part of.

Eventually I did locate the book. And the first thing I noticed was Jonathan Kellerman’s picture on the back of the novel. As a general rule, I hate modern author photos. What ever happened to the somber and serious author? Steinbeck never smiled, but sometimes smirked. Today, they all have smiles as big as their books. This is probably because these writers are paid so well. But Kellerman takes it to new heights: he is clearly wearing make-up. No class.

I got down to the business of reading Twisted. Kellerman is a fast read. He needs to be. I have never read an author who spends so much time on trivial matters. It is as though he really only had a novella and decided to fluff it up into a novel. It isn’t enough for Isaac to find the note in the lunch his mother prepared for him. He has to pick up the lunch, ride on the bus, get hungry, look in the lunch, find the note, get off the bus, and get on a different one. I am not kidding. And it could have been worse, because it was, in other parts of the book. For example, we could have been treated to two pages of Isaac’s experience of eating his lunch.

It is a lot easier to start a novel than to end it. A great example of this is Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg. Its first part is very good, but the second part is weak and the third awful. It is all about expectations. Peter Høeg set expectations very high and he had no denouement equal to them. I’m sure that even at his best, Kellerman is nowhere near as good as Høeg. Still, he does set some high expectations at the beginning of Twisted.

Isaac has determined that for the previous 6 years, there has been a murder right around midnight on June 28 that all involved a depressed skull fracture. We don’t learn much about these murders once they are brought up on page 32. Then, on page 305 (of a 372 page novel), we learn the reason behind the pattern. And it is neither Isaac nor Petra who figures it out; it is a naughty librarian.

When reading a book like this, part of the fun is figuring out who done it. There was no way to do so in this novel. The author didn’t give you enough information until he gave all the information. What was the key? A 1897 book, “The Sins of the Mad Artist: an Account of the Horrible Deeds of Otto Retzak”—a psychiatric examination of a serial killer. And what was the connection? Retzak was an artist and the killer in Twisted was an artist. That’s it! That’s all the justification Kellerman provides.

What’s more, the plot depends upon Isaac having a gun at the end, so Kellerman provides him with one through a preposterous subplot. There are many other subplots. There is a mass murder that initially seems like the main plot. There is Isaac’s sex life. There is Petra’s sex life. And on and on. It is all filler, and in the end, the whole plot is as well.

I would hope that Kellerman used to be better than he is in this book. Twisted was his twentieth book. But it begs the question: why is he still writing? There is no art in this book. It is pure commerce that starts with the first word and ends with the made-up author’s picture on the back cover.


On page 302, Kellerman writes, “She threw back her head and laughed.” If people threw their heads back and laughed, this would still be a tired description. But I don’t ever remember anyone throwing their head back and laughing. The only reason people aren’t publicly laughing at Kellerman is that this sentence is late in the book in the middle of a lot of poor writing. Had it been the first sentence in the book, it would rightfully be placed in alongside “It was a dark and stormy night” as one of the worst lines of all time.

Speaking of which. Here are three opening sentences that I think are rather good:

These are the times that try men’s souls: the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. —Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

13 thoughts on “Twisted Stretched

  1. The killer was not an artist. That was a seperate case altogether, although her had killed several people himselm. The killer was the brother of a rocket scientist who was the first victim and also the adultress of said brother.

  2. This article was obvioulsly written by someone who has no talent to write a novel for themselves and is jealous of those who do. If you are going to give out spoilers to a book at least get your spoilers correct. You cannot give a proper review to a novel that you have not written. I will not read any of your reviews from this point on.

  3. @Thomas – You are simply wrong. Both killers considered themselves artists of murder. I didn’t write about the rest, and my memory has faded.

    @John – I have written a novel, not that that has anything to do with anything. You too are wrong about the "spoilers." As for the whole idea of spoiling a story:

    [url=]Story Spoilers[/url]

  4. Well, I must have low expectations, because I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It had more than enough twists and turns to hold my interest, and I enjoy Kellerman’s earthy street talk as he "keeps it real". As for knocking him for a smiling inside cover pic with "obvious make-up", my book had a black and white pic, but regardless, who on earth gives a damn about an author’s cover pic? I’ll tell you who. A miserable person who started reading with pre-conceived ideas of hating it and this succeeded. I sense more than a little psychological trauma in the reviewer’s tone. Time to take your meds and switch to comedies.

  5. @No Drama – Not at all! I only noticed the photo when I went back to the book. Forgive me a bit of snark. My disappointment in the ending of the book came from the high expectations at the beginning of the book. It is relatively easy to start to a book well. See, for example, [i]Smilla’s Sense of Snow[/i], as I discussed in the article. Even the best of novelists have only two or three good ones. I think Kellerman is up to about 30 now. At that point, it is commerce, not art.

  6. Interesting but I think weak review. While the story does take several turns that are not the main plot, it depicted life and made the story relatable. People have sex, other murders happen. I agree that it is filler but without it it would be 372 pages of only the one crime, detective with only one agenda and people around it all with one objective. Only solving the one plot murder. LA has multiple murders and crimes occurring it would be remiss of him not to include other crimes in his books as he often does. But that’s my opinion and I’m not one to bash you for your review as that is your opinion. I enjoy his books and that’s my right but I also enjoy and have enjoyed thousands of others.

  7. What a sad sad person the reviewer comes across as. Sounds like jealousy and someone trying to show how clever they are. I found this review by accident and will definitely make a point of avoiding any more of his. I have read several novels by JK also by his wife Faye Kellerman and his son. I have always been amazed that one family could have such a prodigious output and readable quality. Not so Mr Clever, Clever Moraes trying to impress by comparing Charles Dickens with JK.

    • I’ll never understand why readers feel the need to protect pulp fiction writers they like.

      Yes, it is always jealousy. Because it couldn’t be that Kellerman was running out of steam on this novel series!

      It is curious that you fans who are so desperate to defend Kellerman never engage with my criticisms. I wonder why?!

      But really: why are you soiling my site with your rant? Why don’t you start Then you can marvel at his amazing talent full-time. And I guarantee that I will never visit your site. You see: there are 8,000 articles on this site. This is the only article I’ve written about him. I never think of Kellerman except when someone like you comes by to remind me that most readers aren’t very discriminating.

      • What kind of book would be ok without fillers? ” The bad guy killed many people. Then the police caught him. The end. ” We are the readers, we know what we like, and we buy the books. That’s all that matters.

        • If that’s the case then why aren’t you reading the sales figures of Twisted? Why did you read this?

          And really: I cannot believe that fans of Jonathan Kellerman don’t understand that this is not one of his better works. It shows all the signs of an old series long after it had lost its way.

  8. I am reading twisted and I had the exact same feelings .I never leave books unfinished and this has been so painful. I am only finishing it out of habit. Your review is spot on. He is trying to shove down his philosophy and political views down the readers throat . On top of that the writing and plot are crap. A weekend wasted. Not reading another one by him.

  9. I always enjoy JK books. They’re not overly complicated and for me that works. I read more for pleasure than critical analysis.
    However, I do enjoy his character of Delaware and the insatiable Sturgis more. Hope he keeps writing them.

    • I suspect his earlier books are quite good. And Twisted is competent. But it is typical of what happens to series that get too long. I used to like Dennis Lehane a lot but I stopped reading because I felt his stuff was getting that way. And he hasn’t written nearly the quantity that Kellerman has!

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