Jesse Kellerman’s novel Sunstroke is a fine novel, and Jesse Kellerman is a fine novelist, which is why I was thrilled that my wife bought me a signed first edition for Christmas. However, it really doesn’t compare to Kellerman’s much darker thriller The Executor (reviewed here).
But to Kellerman’s credit, Sunstroke is his first novel whereas The Executor is his most recent (his 4th novel, I think.)
Sunstroke follows Gloria as she is forced into the job of an amateur detective. (Whether she is forced by fate or involved because she chooses to insert herself where she isn’t really needed would be a good topic for a character analysis.) The story starts moments after an earthquake rattles southern California in the middle of the night. Awake, and unable to fall back asleep, Gloria, a 36-year-old receptionist, decides she might as well walk down to the office to clean up whatever mess is there.
During her midnight clean-up, Gloria checks the answering machine and finds that her boss left a disturbing, cryptic message saying he was in an accident. He says he is fine, but the whole thing leaves Gloria very much on edge. And that is how Gloria begins searching for her boss Carl Perreira, the man she loves.
Right off, Gloria runs into a few problems. He’s not missing, he called and left the message. He’s not dead, again, he called and left the message. The cops are busy and could care less. She’s not his wife, and Carl never expressed any interest in Gloria. What it boils down to is that she has no claim on the man and there is no missing person to report.
But because Gloria is a truly good, caring person, and she deeply cares for her boss, she keeps looking, even driving all night to Mexico to get some clear answers. What she finds out is that her boss is not at all who she thought he was.
The mystery of Carl Perrira unravels and Gloria keeps pulling strings long after anyone else would have. During her sleuthing, we learn quite a bit about Gloria’s life. This was the most enjoyable part of the story. Gloria — genuine, sweet, intelligent, convincing– makes for an interesting protagonist. She is the reason a reader will read this book. The reader will sympathise with her and enjoy her company.
Ultimately, this books is 90% excellent thriller, 10% confusing. As the climax builds to its crescendo, name changes and characters become a swirling fog. I found it too difficult to keep everyone straight to fully enjoy the twist. The resolution was satisfying, Gloria does not disappoint, though it did seem like there could have been many other possible resolutions, some more satisfying than others.
As for adult language, there is a little bit of swearing though rare and not a distraction.
I strongly recommend The Executor but I can only give Sunstroke a modest recommendation.