Billy Straight by Jonathan Kellerman and My Thoughts on Shifting POVs

I'm reading Billy Straight, a novel published in 1998 by one of my favorite mystery authors, Jonathan Kellerman.

Billy Straight is a smart, too-small-for-his-age kid who can no longer take the punishment doled out by his drunken mother's succession of boyfriends. Deciding he can do better on his own, he runs away. He does pretty well for a street kid--uses the library, the zoo and other public places to create a routine for himself. He also carves out five secret spaces across town to sleep in. Hiding in one of those places puts him in the perfect spot to witness a horrific murder.

Enter Petra Connor. She's the detective who's going to crack this case. Petra's got baggage in the form of an ex-husband and a deceased father. Daddy used to be a cop, a good one, and Petra is constantly trying to measure up to what she thinks would be his expectations of her.

Chapter one opens with Billy, 1st person POV; second chapter is Petra, 3rd person POV. I don't like this convention, but I've seen it before and I can handle it. Besides, I like both characters already. The chapters alternate regularly and I hit my stride until page ninety-nine, in which Kellerman introduces Sharla Straight, 3rd person POV in chapter thirteen. I'm taken out of the novel for a moment, scrambling to root this person in the story. Chapter fourteen is even worse--just half a page long, and it's an unnamed narrator, 1st person.

After that, the predictability of narrators is lost. Sometimes Petra has two chapters in row; other narrators slip in with 3rd person POV: a second detective, a maid, a Jewish man, a street vendor. All of this arrhythmia takes place after the reader has crossed ninety-nine pages. I keep reading because I need to see what happens to Billy and how Petra will save him. But I don't like the wildly shifting POV.

Jonathan Kellerman is a bestselling author; who am I to argue with his construction? Well, I'm a reader. I don't happen to like all the shifting POVs. I understand he's using this technique to create tension, toss red herrings, and heighten suspense, but understanding this technique doesn't mean I have to like it.

I didn't like it in Criss Cross, either (YA, Lynne Rae Perkins). But that's just my preference. Criss Cross won the Newbery Medal in 2006.

Back to Billy Straight--I'm on page 344 now. The kind Jewish man let Billy sleep in the shul. Petra's come up with an exciting theory on the case. More than a hundred pages to go. I can't wait to see what happens next.


Regan said...

Hmm...the novel sounds interesting, although the POV changes must also be discombobulating. Makes me worry about my own WIP, which has some POV shifts, although I try to keep a regular pattern.

Vic Burton said...

You know I've read that particular Kellerman a couple of times and never caught that. I'll have to go back and read it again.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. Always nice to see a fellow AWer.

elysabeth said...

I like Jonathan Kellerman but haven't read him in a while - hadn't heard of this book - but I don't think I could read the changing POVs very well - because I've only read a couple of stories with shifting POVs but they were both done in first changing between the characters, chapter to chapter - thanks for sharing with us this interesting take on a book.

And wow - over 450 pages in a story - I have a hard time reading stuff that is much over 400 pages - especially since I do book reviews - but that's just me - E :)