Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Executor, by Jesse Kellerman


First, my thanks to Putnam publishers for sending me this book.

The Executor is very different, very slow paced right up until the end where the action kicks into gear, and more of a character-driven novel rather than plot. The main character, Joseph Geist is a career student who came from a dysfunctional family. He's taken too long to produce any results from his PhD research in Philosophy and the powers that be at Harvard have had enough. His girlfriend, whose family doesn't like Joseph anyway, kicks him out of their apartment. He's on the edge of broke, with nothing to show for his life. Looking for work, he comes across an ad that reads "Conversationalist Wanted," posted by an enigmatic and elderly woman named Alma, herself (many years ago) a philosophy student during her life in Austria. He takes the job, and Alma offers him part of her apartment as living space. The situation seems fine until Alma's bad-boy nephew Eric enters the scene. Eric is Alma's only relative, and on his visits she doles out money that never seems to last, as he is usually back for more within short spaces of time. Joseph takes an instant dislike to Eric; whether it's because he's jealous of him or because he sees through him right away is difficult to understand.  Joseph goes for a brief visit home to honor the anniversary of his brother's death, and returns to a nightmare.

Joseph is an interesting character. He's a man of extreme inaction for most of the story, so it's interesting watching the story progress to the point where he feels he must finally take an active role in his life. Growing up, he was passive, unable to do anything when his father was abusive to his brother, and he watched his mother fade as a person, standing by and letting his father control the entire family. The anniversary of his brother's death, and the realization that nothing had changed over the years he'd been away, seemed to spark some sort of latent anger that rose to the surface when his new situation came under threat. Yet, given all of that, Joseph remains a largely unsympathetic character, one for whom it's difficult to feel any pity at times.

I like the slow pace of Kellerman's writing here and I think his work shows a high level of intelligence. However, I had to actually go back to a point in the novel and reread it where it switched from the very slow, steady pace to where all of a sudden there's a rush of action and things move extremely fast, because the switch was distracting and seemed so out of character for Joseph that I was actually taken aback. It was a "huh" moment.  After the steady build up getting to know and understand Joseph, the end was really rushed. That's my only major complaint about this book.  A lot of times I think that authors pad way too much and probably could have deleted the fluff to stay with the heart of their stories, but for a change, it seems that this novel was too short. I'm sure Kellerman has his reasons for ending the book quickly, but it was a bit out of step with the rest of the story. 

If you are expecting a novel along the lines of something written by Jonathan or Faye Kellerman, this one doesn't even come close. I've read my fair share of both of their books and they're okay for a quick read. But Jesse Kellerman's style is very different, not a series book, not in the cozy realm, and there's no quick-witted detective or psychologists.  I'm not saying this as a negative, but it wouldn't be fair to lump parents and son in the same category of writing styles. This book is very intense, intelligent and it reminded me a little of Andrew Wilson's book The Lying Tongue in that you sense all the way through the story that something horrible is going to happen and you have no choice but to watch it play out. I probably would recommend it to readers who want something just a notch above ordinary suspense novels. It's not a mystery, but rather a suspenseful study into one man's mind.

ps/I'd love to share this ARC; if you want it, just be the first person to email me and I'll send it out when I return from Philadelphia next week. My only condition is that you must promise that you'll write a review before the book's release date.


  1. I have done this.... had to backtrack in a book and read parts over. Sounds like an interesting read.

  2. Just finished the book. I was distracted from the start of the book from the portrayal of the Viennese character's description of her days in Vienna in the 1950's. I wish Kellerman had done better research. His character is describing a decadent and wealthy city as it reputedly was at the turn of the century. But 1950's Vienna was a divided and non-prosperous city, split into four zones and occupied by the Soviet Union, U.S., Great Britan and France until 1955.

    From there, I found it difficult to find the rest of the book believable. It may be an interesting psychological thriller read for someone who doesn't generally read mystery novels and who won't appreciate how well-researched most reviewed mystery and thriller novels are. Unfortunately, I was so conscious of what was accurate and plausible that it kept me from enjoying the book.

  3. Anonymous: You're right. Absolutely. Here's a case of "Nancy wasn't thinking" properly and wasn't paying attention to historical details.


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it