four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-The Executor.epsThis is the fourth book by Jesse Kellerman, who is the son of mystery novelists Faye and Jonathan Kellerman.

The Story: Joseph Geist, a philosophy graduate student, is writing his dissertation on free will, but he has fewer and fewer chances to meaningfully exercise it. He has been kicked out by his girlfriend, his university funding has disappeared, and he finds himself sleeping on friend's couches with only a half-bust of Nietzsche to his name. Then Geist answers an ad in the Harvard Crimson for a "conversationalist" and meets Alma Spielmann, a wealthy and witty elderly Viennese woman who is happy to support and house Geist as long as he indulges her need for Socratic dialogue and soap operas. But when Alma's shallow nephew upsets these tête-à-têtes, the plot takes a turn toward the violent.
Putnam. 352 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780399156472

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The Executor ... is an extraordinarily complex and ambitious piece of work residing inside what seems at first blush nothing more than a typical crime novel. Kellerman's real subject here, however, isn't crime but rather philosophy and particularly the thorny issue of free will. It is a deep pool that lies just below the glossy surface." Randy Michael Signor

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Those readers who have had the pleasure of reading Kellerman's earlier work--especially his previous psychological novel, The Genius--well know that the greatest gift he has is for upending the expected, molding conventional story twists into sneakier, more surprising land mines. ... Kellerman's prose style is silken sheen covering deep existential skeletons." Sarah Weinman

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"There are eerie echoes of Barbara Vine in ... Jesse Kellerman's stunning novel of psychological suspense: the clinical dissection of a mind that refuses to examine itself; the disintegration of moral boundaries when such a mind develops a fixation; the macabre humor of people who think too much; and, most unnerving, a certain playful cruelty about matters of life and death." Marilyn Stasio

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The fun of reading Kellerman's novel ... arises not from the shock of the inevitable (murder, most foul!), but from the clever twists and turns that lead readers up to and away from the climactic moment. ... Geist's lively and erudite narration is a pleasure to be misled by." Maureen Corrigan

Critical Summary

Reviewers were happy to celebrate Jesse Kellerman's ability to fuse the psychological novel with crime story conventions and produce something entirely original. They particularly enjoyed Joseph Geist's unreliability as a narrator; from the start, his neuroses and fixations guarantee that something awful will befall the man, but Kellerman allows the story to unfold at just the right pace to keep readers guessing exactly what. Critics also loved the unexpected ending, hinting that if what doesn't kill Geist doesn't exactly make him stronger, it at least helps him finally discover the meaning of free will.