Fri
Apr 29 2011 1:00pm

Byronic and Broken: Faye Kellerman’s Christopher Whitman

Cover of Justice by Faye KellermanI was introduced to Christopher Whitman (later Donatti after taking his stepfather’s name) in Faye Kellerman’s 1995 book, Justice.   I had picked up a few of her earlier Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus books and found them addictive.   She wrote vivid characters and, even though I had absolutely nothing in common with her characters, I had no problems relating to them.  So, perhaps, I was predisposed to like Justice.   A lot of the book is also written from the perspective of a character who falls in love with Whitman.  In a sense, the reader is manipulated into seeing him in the best light.   Am I making excuses?  Yeah, sadly, I am because I know he isn’t a good guy.  The fact of the matter is, I still loved him from the minute he appeared in the book.  

Christopher Whitman was obviously set apart from the other high-schoolers in the book.   He was older than the crowd, various reasons why he was still in school at all.   He was smart.   He lived on his own two thousand miles away from his home in NYC.   His looks . . . well, they weren’t the thing of inspiration.   Kellerman gave him long hair that I longed to cut.  I don’t prefer my heroes to look like Jesus, but maybe that’s just me.  (Yes, she decided him that way.)  He was witty and seemed just a little bit . . . dangerous.   He knew what he wanted and he was persistent about getting it.   Oh yes, and the best part?   He was a musician.   Not a crazy, garage band, rock star wannabe kind of musician, but a classical musician.  A cellist.   Who can say no to that?

Broken glass Flickr imageHe was also a pathological liar.  A budding alcoholic.  A control freak.  A sociopath who could run very cool and then, suddenly, very very hot.  A possible murderer of high school girls and, oh yes, a mafia hitman.  Yes, with a troubled past.   Yes, from a broken home.   Yes, he was abused.  Yes to all of those things used as excuses for people who do bad things.  When I first read Justice I was as entranced by Christopher Whitman as the girl in the book who couldn’t say no to him.  Fifteen years later, I don’t know what my excuse is.  When I re-read Justice, the magic is still there.  At the end of Justice, Whitman and his girlfriend are expecting a baby.  He doesn’t know about it, though, and has married someone else.  In 2002’s Stone Kiss, there is a bit of an update but it is Hangman, the 2010 release from Kellerman, takes up the family situation fifteen years after Justice

Cover of Hangman by Faye KellermanChris has turned into a man who hit his wife when he thought she’d had an abortion, a man who shot at his son (so he wouldn’t panic when bullets were flying), a full blown alcoholic, along with a host of other sins (infidelity, murder, etc.). Yet, you can tell that Kellerman still loves him and believes, even after everything, that he tips the scales more towards good than bad.  He’ll never be father of the year.  Not of any year.  He seems much more concerned about possessing his son than being a genuine father.  Yet . . . part of me has to believe that Chris always has the best thing for Gabriel in mind.  It isn’t conventional, definitely, but the father/son scenes in Hangman are some of the best in the book.

It doesn’t, and can’t, erase or mask the parts of him that are jagged and ugly to look at.  In Justice, there might have been an argument that while he certainly wasn’t a hero, he might have been a Byronic hero: melancholic, rebellious and haunted by past wrongdoings. It is the way a character lives life (or death) that characterizes them as Byronic.

After Hangman, though, it is difficult, if not impossible, to label Whitman as any kind of hero, Byronic or otherwise. Yes, he loves his son.  Yes, he refrained (thus far) from paying back betrayal with murder.  If these are the two best things you can say about a character, heroic might not be the proper description of him.  Even then . . . I still can’t help rooting for him, wanting him to change, but only the parts of himself that I don’t like.  Ultimately, it is about choice: choice for Kellerman as the author, for Whitman as the character, and for me as the reader.  Even though I know better, and I do know better, Whitman continues to be one of my favorite fictional characters.  Read Justice and then Hangman to see if you agree he is “Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to know.”  And, more importantly, if that’s how you like him.

Image courtesy of philip.bitnar


Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a long time lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
7 comments
1. Susan
Faye Kellerman. Captured me many years ago...Very relatable and intricate books...My whole family are "Kellerman" fans. I started with Faye...and Am a Huge Fan for Years...Now I must read "Justice". I knew once I started reading this site a few Days ago...I would be kept up to date...We tend to pass by our Favorite Authors...CRIMINALELEMENTS will keep me reading a good mix New Authors I love and Not forget about my others..that entertained me for so long...
Betty Breier
2. BLB
Justice is my favorite Faye Kellerman book largely because of Chris Whitman and Terry McLaughlin. After Stone Kiss, I wanted to know more about these two and kept wondering "What happens next?" I was so happy when Hangman came out and I still feel that Chris has some redeeming qualities.
I'm really glad that I came across this article and now know I'm not the only one who finds Chris to be such a fascinating character.
3. Chris McAteer
I am new to Faye Kellerman. I absolutely love her! I just finished Justice and I think it is one of the best books I have ever read. I loved both Terry and Chris. My library doesn't have the books in order or all of them, but I read Stone Kiss first. What an eye opener to se Chris as a mature killer and Terry loving him but not in love with him. I look forward to filling in the blanks. I am going to take my time and discover Kellerman. By the way can you send me her email address. Thanks a lot! Chris
Clare 2e
4. clare2e
Usually there's contact info at the author's web page, so go to the link from her name, and best of luck!
5. Crystie
I too was a Chris fan from the first time I picked up Justice. I was so excited to read Stone Kiss because it gives you another peak into CD's life. Just finished reading and re reading Hangman and Gun Games today. I must say that I think Chris is one of her best characters and Kellerman did a wonderful job with Gabriel as well. They may never have a normal relationship but my heart goes out to the characters because they are so complex and enjoyable. I have my fingers crossed for more of Chris and Gabe : )
6. Jo Laynne Boies
I too love Chris, Terry and Gabe and look forward to re-reading each one. I keep her books and re-read them as my health is not the best. I have 2 other authors whose books I keep, but Faye Kellerman's books are the best of all. I cannot wait for the next book and hope to see Gabe and his opera loving Cuckoo-bird girlfriend in them. He is now a member of the family. I love the Decker-Lazarus books best of all her books and she is the best, my favorite author, although the whole family seems blest with the "writer" gene.
7. Bonnie35
Just this morning I heard Tom Petty's Last Dance With Mary Jane - the refrain of which runs through Chris' head back in Justice when he sees Terry dressed for the prom.
Chris stood out (and continues to stand out) so vividly for me that that Petty track, for *years*, has been synonymous with resurrecting his character in my mind - and it also reignites the little love affair I, like you, developed with him.
His romance with Terry was so toxic - yet I 'shipped those two *hard*. Terry was the one person Chris could put his toes in the water of vulnerability with. Their intensity took my breath away and I (like Kellerman herself, I think) know whole-heartedly that while he is a textbook sociopath....maybe there is a tiny cell of empathy, tenderness, and love within him that could - maybe? kinda sorta? - grow...
Post a comment