January 20, 2019

After more than 70 thrillers, the writing Kellermans go on tour

Jonathan and Faye Kellerman are happily married, have four talented children, live in a spacious Beverly Hills home and have a joint family business that probes the darkest crevices of the human psyche and soul.

The parents, together with son Jesse, are arguably the first family of crime fiction, with a combined output to gladden the heart of any bibliophile.

And now, in a rare break from their strict daily writing regime, parents and son are hitting the road — at least as far as Orange County. They will talk about the Jewish writer’s life and their new books on Oct. 29 and Nov. 3 at the Book Carnival in Orange, and on Nov. 8 at University Synagogue in Irvine.

Together, the Kellerman clan has written more than 70 crime novels, which have sold more than 100 million copies in this country and abroad. Jonathan leads in the family derby with 39 novels and six texts on psychology; followed by Faye, with 27 suspense novels; and Jesse, who has written or co-written nine novels and plays. These works have won more awards than can be listed in one article and are fixtures on The New York Times best-sellers lists.

Apparently, none of the Kellermans has ever encountered the bane of writer’s block, they testified during a nearly two-hour interview in the couple’s living room, joined via phone by Jesse in Berkeley.

 “We’re professionals,” Jonathan said, and he would no more use a writer’s block affliction to miss a publisher’s deadline “than a plumber would cancel a job because of plumber’s block.”

Yet, with all that success and experience, writing is still a demanding task for Jonathan, 67, and Faye, 63. “It doesn’t get any easier, though you reach a certain level of self-confidence,” Faye said.

The family is intensely Jewish and Zionist. Both parents define their religious Judaism as “traditional” and they worship at the Beverly Hills Synagogue, an Orthodox congregation.

In their writing, both draw on Jewish characters and experiences, most obviously Faye, whose Rina Lazarus is a Torah-observant lead protagonist. Jonathan’s Alex Delaware, a fixture in most of his novels as the author’s more glamorous alter ego, is a self-described “mutt,” likely with an admixture of Jewish genes.

Lazarus aids her husband, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Lt. Peter Decker, in solving crimes, and both reappear in Faye’s latest thriller, “The Theory of Death,” which the author will discuss during her Orange County tour. (She visits the Book Carnival on Oct. 29.)

The book starts with the discovery of a nude male body with a single gunshot through the head. The trail leads to “scheming academics, secret cyphers and hidden corruption, where even harmless nerds can morph into cold, calculating geniuses” who orchestrate a “dark, twisted tale created by depraved and evil masterminds,” according to the book jacket.

Jonathan, in turn, will introduce his new work, “The Golem of Paris,” his second collaboration with Jesse, 37. (The pair will appear Nov. 3 at the Book Carnival.)

At the center of the book is LAPD Detective Jacob Lev, who has been on a downward spiral but pulls himself together as the search to solve a gruesome murder takes him to the bright lights — and dark corners — of Paris.

A former yeshiva student, Jonathan was born in New York City; his wife is a St. Louis native raised in Sherman Oaks. They arrived at their craft from distinctly different backgrounds.

Jonathan worked his way through UCLA as an editorial cartoonist, writer and guitarist, and at 22 received the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award for Fiction. Winners of this award usually turn to a screenwriting career, but Jonathan has resolutely stayed away from Hollywood. Like Alex Delaware, his fictional protagonist, Jonathan received a doctorate in psychology at 24, specializing in the treatment of children.

Indeed, his first published book was a medical text, “Psychological Aspects of Childhood Cancer,” followed by “Helping the Fearful Child.” Although no longer active as a psychotherapist, he is a clinical professor of pediatrics and psychology at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

While Jonathan has drawn heavily on his professional background for his suspense novels, Faye has found her UCLA doctoral degree in dentistry less applicable to her writing. Nevertheless, her first novel, which introduced Lazarus and Decker in “The Ritual Bath,” won a top writing award. The New York Times praised the two lead characters, noting that “this couple’s domestic affairs have the haimish warmth of reality, unlike the formulaic lives of so many other genre detectives.”

The Kellermans’ four adult children apparently share their parents’ professional interests.

Jesse studied at a yeshiva in Israel before earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Harvard and a master’s degree in playwriting from Brandeis University. He has written five mystery novels on his own and two in collaboration with his father, and was recognized as America’s most promising young playwright in 2003.

Of the couple’s three daughters, Rachel and Ilana specialize in child psychology, while Aliza, after writing a book jointly with her mother, is now working on her own novel.

In their large home, crammed with books and decorated with posters and book jackets of their own works, husband and wife work in separate offices. In the beginning of their writing careers, Jonathan said, “We used to read each other’s drafts in progress, but now we are both confident enough that we just read the finished books.”

During our interview, Jonathan, Faye and Jesse shared some observations on their work and reflections on society in general.

Faye: I am a very rosy person who writes like a dark, cynical one.

Jonathan: The appeal of a crime book is that it ends with a 100 percent resolution.

Jesse: We crime novelists have a great pulpit. We write about justice and about correcting injustice.

Jonathan: I like to solve problems in my writing. It’s like dealing with a new patient.

Jonathan: We hear a lot about serial killers, but we’ve had those in the past. One difference is the speed with which information travels.

Jonathan: The most fearful experience for kids is to watch the nightly TV news. … The parents should always be with them to put the events in context.

Jesse: As a species we humans are getting a little bit better — but not a whole lot. In general, the human race is still a young organism.

Faye: All of us think we live in unusual times and the next generation is going to hell. But we’ve been through it all before.