When a teacher at a very exclusive prep school is found dead in a tub of dry ice, L.A. Homicide Detective Milo Sturgis is assigned to the case. The murdered teacher has left behind a DVD on which she claims that she was subjected to relentless sexual harassment by three other members of the school's staff, whom she names on the video. Because it looks like an interesting case, Milo invites his old pal, Alex Delaware, to tag along during the investigation.
Logically, Milo's investigation should start with the school and the accused staffers. However, the Deputy Chief's son attends the school. The Deputy Chief very much wants his son to be admitted to Yale and fears that any whiff of scandal connected to the school might dim his son's chances. So the D.C. orders Milo to give the school a wide berth, except as a last resort and then only with the D.C.'s permission. The D.C. would prefer that Milo nail the victim's boyfriend for the crime, or anyone else not associated with the school.
Milo pursues the investigation in his own inimitable way, meaning that he will do things as he sees fit, irrespective of what the D.C. or any other Big Cheese might prefer. The faithful Alex will be at his side throughout to drive him, feed him, offer moral support, and occasionally ask the pertinent question. Inevitably there will be lots of twists and turns along the way to the conclusion of the case.
As crime novels go, this is not bad and it's better than a lot of others. My problem with this book, as it was with the last Jonathan Kellerman book that I read, is that it is billed as "An Alex Delaware Novel," when, in fact, Alex is basically just along for the ride, essentially serving as Dr. Watson to Milo's Sherlock Holmes. Even Delaware's domestic situation, which was once fairly interesting, has apparently settled into a bland, run-of-the-mill relationship. As a result, Robin, his girlfriend, gets an obligatory couple of paragraphs, but that's about it--just enough to say, "Hi," 'Bye," and "Have a great time investigating, Boys!"
In the beginning, this series was distinguished by the fact that the lead, Alex Delaware, was a brilliant child psychologist. The department asked him to consult on cases that involved children and where he had a legitimate role to play, Inevitably, Alex wound up in the middle of everything and was always the one to solve the case, but he was there for a logical reason--his presence always made sense. In these early books, Milo Sturgis was the second banana, there to provide an official police presence as needed.
In the last couple of books or more, Alex has had no legitimate reason to be involved whatsoever. He's not officially consulting and in the real world, no citizen would ever be allowed to tag along in an investigation like this. He occasionally does some grunt work for Milo on the computer--usually something that any competent high school kid could do equally well. He occasionally offers some psychological insight about one or another of the suspects, but never anything particularly deep, and certainly nothing that Milo would not be able to observe himself after hanging out with Alex for the better part of twenty friggin' years.
Again, this is a pretty good crime novel, but sooner or later the agency that regulates truth in advertising needs to get involved here. This is really "A Milo Sturgis Novel," and there's no reason at all for Alex Delaware to be involved. This used to be one of the really good crime series out there. The protagonist was interesting and unusual; the cases were different and compelling, and the series stood apart from anything that anyone else was writing. I'm not going to give up on this series, but it really would be nice to get a real Alex Delaware novel again sometime.