First family of crime fiction meets fans in Berkeley

It was a dark and stormy night.

And though writers Jonathan and Faye Kellerman would cringe at that famously clichéd line by British novelist Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, the night the couple spoke in Berkeley, it was raining cats and dogs.

However, the downpour didn’t stop about 50 Kellerman fans from attending a March 27 fund-raiser for American Friends of Magen David Adom (Israel’s version of the Red Cross) to meet the Kellermans and son Jesse Kellerman.

The event was held at Berkeley’s kosher Ristorante Raphael. After dinner, the three Kellermans spoke, each revealing their different approaches to the art of fiction writing.

First up was son Jesse Kellerman, 27, who just published his debut novel, “Sunstroke.” The kippah on his head was a tip-off that the younger Kellerman was raised in an observant home, attended Orthodox day schools and spent a year in Israel.

But the L.A.-born writer used his time to describe his approach to life and work. “I find the world very odd and startling at all times,” he said. “I’m not good at daily life.” He went on to recount how he formed the idea for “Sunstroke,” a thriller featuring a Hispanic woman as its protagonist.

Up next, his mother Faye Kellerman, best-selling author of 18 novels, including “Moon Music” and the historical novel “The Quality of Mercy.” She just finished a new book, “Straight Into Darkness,” based on her father’s experiences as a Jewish G.I. liberating the Dachau concentration camp.

“Judaism plays an important part in my mysteries,” she said, adding that her newest novel “got me in touch not only with my Jewish past, but with my personal past.” Her next volume will be another in her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series of crime novels. “After such an emotional experience” writing the last book, said Kellerman, “it’s nice to write about a simple homicide again.”

Her husband, Jonathan, 56, spoke next. Just hitting the stores is his latest opus, “Gone,” but he chose to speak about his transformation from renowned child psychologist to crime novelist.

He said it wasn’t really all that much of a transformation. “I’ve been writing compulsively since I was 9.”

One of his favorite words is “serendipity,” as so much of Kellerman’s life and career seems to have been guided by chance. He fell into cartooning as a college student, scoring a cover of National Review with a drawing of Robert Kennedy (the cartoon was ultimately pulled, as Kennedy died just before the scheduled publication date). He entered a novel writing contest on a whim, and won as an undergraduate (he spent the $1,000 prize on his wife’s engagement ring).

He was handed an assignment to work with young cancer patients at L.A.’s Children’s Hospital, and turned that into an important clinical career.

But he found his greatest success to date as a crime novelist, with 25 titles under his belt so far.

During the question-and-answer segment, Faye Kellerman said she was raised in a kosher, “Conservadox” home in Los Angeles, while her husband grew up in a traditional modern Orthodox home. They raised their four children in their own observant household, one Faye described as “controlled chaos.”

It must have been a humor-filled home as well. When asked about his own Jewish upbringing, son Jesse said, “My home was a sinkhole of depraved apostasy.”

He was kidding.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.