When an earthquake hits California, Gloria Mendez isn't at work like usual. Her boss Carl has gone to Mexico and he insisted she take some time off, too. But she has to make sure everything's okay, which is when she finds a message from Carl. It's hard to understand, between the poor cell signal and tape damage, but it sounds like he's been in an accident in Mexico.
Her attempts to get the Californian or Mexican authorities to help are fruitless - they can't understand her desperation and keep acting as though she's a secretary. They don't understand that Gloria and Carl had an unspoken understanding, tantamount to - but crucially not - a relationship.
Gloria finds her way to the tiny, half-deserted town of Aqua Vivas, increasingly desperate to find Carl. And in the process of finding out what happened to Carl, and why, Gloria begins to learn about herself.
I'm not sure what I was expecting from Kellerman's debut novel. As previously noted, I enjoy his mother's mysteries somewhat more than those of his father, and perhaps I was expecting something of a blend of the two which, in retrospect, was insulting. Kellerman junior has a style all his own.
The novel combines Gloria's search with reflections on her life to date - her Mexican mother's traumatic death, the barrio decline of her brother, her unhappy marriage, her increasingly restrictive life. And as the story of Carl intricately unfolds, Kellerman manages to avoid predictability in favour of depth.
Though this is not a plot-driven thriller - the pace is character-led, the description evocative, the themes complex - but the mystery at the heart of the novel kept me reading. And threaded throughout the text is a subtle stream of sly humour that was masterfully done. A most impressive debut, I've already reserved his next novel. - Alex