by Sharon Tucker
Now, God be praised, that to believing souls /Gives light in darkness, comfort in despair. — William Shakespeare, Henry VI, pt. II
Faye Kellerman has written twenty-four novels starring Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Decker as of this year, and I must insist that I am revealing no surprise elements of the plot by letting readers in on the fact that they marry each other early into the series. Please. From their first encounter in The Ritual Bath (1986), onward through the most recent novel, The Bone Box (2017), it is clear that they are bashert (soul mates) bringing out the best in each other to become who each was meant to be. Kellerman’s Peter Decker is the official L.A. homicide detective of the two, but the novels’ plots are counterpointed by the couples’ practice of their faith and struggles. Rina, the more formally orthodox of the two is a lodestar—a helpmate in every sense of the word who gets more involved in Decker’s work than is comfortable. The thread of their religion runs throughout the novels: faith is the weft of the plots while crime is the warp. And while these books need not necessarily be read in order of publication, it’s particularly satisfying if they are.
Twelfth in the series, Stalker (2000), has Cindy Decker, Peter’s daughter by an earlier marriage, more front and center than ever as she begins her career in the L.A.P.D. shouldering more than her share of unwanted attention from an anonymous criminal—which, oddly, she is determined to tell no one about. A second plot line has to do with the desecration of the Decker’s synagogue is the first in a series of crimes in The Forgotten (2001) which soon includes murder. Stone Kiss (2002) sends them to New York where their extended family asks for help when one of their number is murdered followed by another going missing. Most of the family then proceeds to stonewall Decker’s efforts to help them.
Despite his daughter’s interest in police work from an early age, Peter Decker has tried to discourage Cindy from pursuing a career in law enforcement. He knows all too well what she will face with the nature of the job, being a woman in a traditionally male profession, and we need not go into the dangers she will be up against on a daily basis as a police officer. However after obtaining appropriate degrees (at an Ivy League university no less), Cindy has just successfully come through police academy training and found a place in the Hollywood Division. Too bad she has a tendency to over-share her father’s experiences at end-of-shift drinks in the department’s local, thus putting backs up and making even more trouble for herself than her outspoken nature ordinarily gets her into. Is this resentment the source of the pervasive uneasiness she feels daily doing the job or is it that objects in her home are moved around in her absence? Has it anything to do with the steadily more violent car-jacking cases deviling her father’s Homicide department?
The small synagogue the Deckers attend is desecrated by Nazi graffiti and lurid concentration camp photos as The Forgotten begins. Decker’s investigation into the break-in quickly turns up troubled teenagers as the culprits, but it seems their anti-Semitic outbursts have already been diagnosed by an exclusive counseling and testing center for children of the wealthy. The more Decker learns about the center the more dubious its organizational principles seem to be, and when murders are committed at the center’s nature camp, the homicide investigation turns up other crimes as well.
Although Los Angeles provides the setting for most of the Decker novels, Stone Kiss takes them to New York at his family’s urgent request. Although one of them has been murdered and another is missing, his investigation is impeded at every turn by all concerned, including Decker’s half-brother Rabbi Jonathan Levin. Decker soon learns that financial scandals have been rife within some of the local Orthodox communities in their area, making the belligerence he encounters a bit suspicious. To complicate matters further, Chris Donati, a mobbed-up sociopathic youth Decker encountered in Kellerman’s Justice (1995), resurfaces as involved with murder and abuse in New York as he was in L.A. and he’s taking an unhealthy interest in Rina Lazarus Decker. Readers will be surprised where the plot takes us—I certainly was.
Among the contrasting elements that make crime novels irresistible to me, one of the most challenging plot lines an author can choose has to be the novels’ main characters’ struggle to follow religious tenants. The sharp contrast of the practice of faith squaring off with the inequities and iniquities of daily life make not only a fascinating read but an instructive one. Faye Kellerman’s Peter and Rina Decker offer readers insights into a culture and belief system that the reader need not share to admire. Her characters lead complex, often unhappy lives; her main characters may suffer from hubris, shame, and wrong-headedness among their other flaws, but they also possess believable sterling characteristics as well and are irresistible. I urge you to read, enjoy and be edified.
You can learn more about Faye Kellerman’s books on her website.
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