Faye Kellerman

Books: Mystery

Decker & Lazarus: The Ritual Bath (1986), Sacred and Profane (1987), Milk and Honey (1990), Day of Atonement (1991), False Prophet (1992), Grievous Sin (1993), Sanctuary (1994), Justice (1995)

Decker & Lazarus

The Ritual Bath (1986)

Rina Lazarus is a young widow with two sons who teaches at the yeshiva and who helps maintain the mikvah–the bath used for ritual cleansing.

Peter Decker is a detective for the LAPD, and is called out when a rape occurs at the yeshiva.

"A rape in Jewtown," Marge muttered. "I've always thought of the place as sacrosanct. Sort of like a convent. Who'd rape a nun?"

"Who'd rape, period?" Decker said.

"Good point."

The biggest problem, however, is getting the victim to cooperate with the police.

I found this fascinating. I'd been told for years that I'd really like this series, but there are a lot of books, and I of course needed to find the first book in the series and then…

This book was published in 1986, so like The Monkey's Raincoat there are a lot of things seem really strange (take phone lines being cut–would a modern kid even understand what that meant?) but since I enjoy historical books, this is just a different kind of historical.

Decker glanced at the computers— six IBM PCs, four Apple MacIntoshes. "Looks like some money has been spent here."

That made me giggle.

And I really really liked reading all the religious bits. Those things fascinate me AND it's unusual to see extremely orthodox characters shown in a positive light. Orthodox religion (of any type) is often just a shorthand for "bad guy" so the complexity was a lovely change

Published by William Morrow

Rating: 7.5/10

Sacred and Profane (1987)

Peter Decker is trying to decide if being in love with Rina Lazarus is reason enough to take up practicing orthodox Judaism. He has become close with her sons, but chafes against the strictures and wonders if he truly has faith.

There was an easy way out. He could reveal to Rina that he was adopted and that his biological parents were Jewish, so there was no legal reason for him to convert. But he didn't consider that a viable option. Too dishonest. He was a product of his real parents— the man and woman who'd nurtured him. And they had raised him a Baptist.

Into this personal confusion comes the discover of two charred bodies–skeletons mostly, discovered by the older of Rina's sons as the three of them are on a camping trip.

One of the geekier things I liked in this story was Peter's work with Dr Annie Hennon.

"The lining of the tooth follicle. Normal radiographic feature. You can see her third molars— the wisdom teeth— much more clearly on these radiographs." She placed several small X rays on the screen. "These are called ‘periapicals' and these are called ‘bite-wings'— the kind of X rays you normally have taken by the dentist. They give much better detail than the orthopantogram. Judging from the maturation of her molars, I'd put Jane Doe One at about fifteen or sixteen."

Those passages were fascinating. That not only can identifications be made from teeth, but they can garner enough information to narrow down the pool of possible victims.

Because one of the two skeletons was of a teenage girl, Peter constantly reminds himself how dangerous a place the world is for young women.

"Every time you get a case with a girl my age, you get that tightness in your voice. How are you going to cope when I go away to college?"

"I'll call you long distance."

"After you get my tuition bills, you won't be able to afford it."

Smart kid.

Now I'll be blunt, I generally get irritated with series where the main characters can't decide how they feel about each other–that's why I stopped reading Kathy Reich's Tempe Brennan series, because they kept creating obstacles where there weren't any.

These two books are different. There is a serious obstacle between Peter and Rina, and it's not the sort of obstacle that can be overcome in a couple of chapters, so I like that they are having difficulties, because they are *real* difficulties.

The rabbi turned to face him. "You can either wallow in self-pity or you can do better." His voice had softened. He placed a firm hand on Decker's shoulder and said, "The choice is yours, my friend."

I'm quite enjoying this series.

Published by HarperCollins

Rating: 8/10

Milk and Honey (1990)

The third Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus mystery.

Decker is heading home when he finds an abandoned toddler wandering around in the middle of the night. The child's clothing is stained with blood, but the child herself is unharmed.

(F)or some reason, he felt obligated to the little girl. Change a diaper, the kid owns you for life, he laughed to himself.

This is the major of the three stories winding through the book–the found child, another lost child, and a friend of Peter's who is accused of a violent rape.

One of the bizarre things about reading books set in the 80s and 90s is how some things have changed so completely in the world. For instance:

She knew they had to move, that they were blocking the path of people deplaning.

That is a completely different would from the one in which we now live, making the story seem much much further in the past than it is (even more so, really, than the common occurrence of pay phones).

Same for this:

A wooden file-holder was nailed onto the outside of the door, and in it was Myra's chart. Decker looked over his shoulder, then lifted the chart and quickly peered through the medical findings.

Another foreign thing is that PTSD is still something about which nobody talks, even though opinions have changed about those who fought in Vietnam.

"You get angry, I get angry, everyone gets angry. What you seem to be talking about"— The Rabbi spoke in a crisp, accented voice—" is extraordinary anger, which I suspect has something to do with your war experiences, otherwise why would you bring that up in the first place?"

It seems odd to have to explain the concept of post traumatic stress disorder as something unknown and strange.

Anachronisms aside, I did enjoy the story, and I very much appreciated seeing Peter slowly work through his demons.

Published by William Morrow

Rating: 7.5/10

Day of Atonement (1991)

Rina and Peter are spending part of their honeymoon with the family of Rina's late husband, because they want to see Rina and the boys over the High Holy Days.

Although the family isn't hostile to Peter, it's still not especially comfortable.

(T)he Lazarus family had been grateful, though no one had ever explicitly told him so. It was just implied that they were grateful because everyone was suddenly more respectful to him whenever he called Rina.

Two things happen: First, Peter accidentally meets his birth mother, whose family is friends with the Lazarus family. Second, a young teen disappears–Peter's blood nephew, even if the family doesn't know about Peter.

Noam never asked questions, even when they were begging to be asked. Frieda felt he wasn't very bright. But unlike Ezra, who also wasn't bright, Noam never had the determination to overcompensate.

This is an exceedingly dark story, with a young teen pulled into something he doesn't understand, which is destroying him.

Published by Harper Collins

Rating: 6.5/10

False Prophet (1992)

The fifth Peter and Rina mystery.

The daughter of a famous actress is found naked and bruised in her home. Peter is first on the scene and the young woman latches onto him, making an already confusing case even more difficult.

"Do you have the combination—"

Brecht rose from his seat. "Why would I have the combination to her safe!"

"My brother and I have the combination to my parents' safe," Decker said. "I don't have any idea what valuables they keep inside, but they gave us the combination in case something happened to them."

Brecht seemed suspended in midair, then he slowly sat back down.

Decker shrugged. "With you being so close to your sister— you have a key to the house— well, I thought she might have trusted you with the combination."

Plus: Rina is pregnant.

"I'm fine, Rina. I'm getting full."

She piled another half-dozen knishes on his plate. "Here. Take."

"I don't want any more," Decker said.

Rina looked at him, her eyes suddenly moistening. "You don't like them?"

"No, no," Decker backtracked. "They're delicious."

There is one hell of a mother in this story.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Decker said. "I'm sure Lilah is devastated as well."

"Why? She didn't lose any jewelry." There was a momentary pause. "Oh… yes, that was terrible. Poor dear."

This seems to be the book in which Peter is shifting from Vietnam to generic Army service. I could be wrong, but I wanted to note it, since the same thing happened in the Spenser and Elvis Cole books.

Very interesting mystery, if somewhat horrifying. What I found most fascinating was the secret uncovered between Mike and Kellie. The secrets of the rich and famous are always large and extravagant and horrifying. But Mike and Kelley's secret was just as horrible, and just as believable.

Published by William Morrow

Rating: 8/10

Grievous Sin (1993)

The 6th Peter and Rina mystery opens with the birth of their daughter.

The hospital is understaffed, and the nurses that are there are overworked, so Peter's older daughter, Cindy, offers to stay with the baby.

Cindy nodded solemnly, thinking that Bellson would have been a great Puritan. She could picture the woman in a Pilgrim's hat, her reedy body covered by a black dress with a starched white apron, fingers kneading stiff bread dough in a one-room shack heated by a black iron cauldron.

Unfortunately, when a newborn is kidnapped, Cindy is not only involved in the case, but becomes fascinated with the police work. (She is in her first year of college, studying criminal justice, so this isn't a huge surprise.)

Marge paused. "What do you want to do with Cindy?"

"She's with Rina. You can interview her just as soon as my ex– father-in-law gets in."

"Don't you think you're overdoing it by getting her a lawyer?"

"It's not her lawyer, Marge, it's her grandfather. Jack was adamant that she not say anything until he comes down."

What possessed men to do this to themselves? Spend hour after hour lifting backbreaking weights? Getting their butts shot up with anabolics that could potentially cause cancer or sterility? Then again, what possessed women to starve themselves to flagpoles and barf up their meals?

Because he was there when it happened, Peter takes on the case, even though he should be home with Rina, who is having a hard time after her emergency story.

That's the part that I had a hard time with. The story is very much about pregnancy and fertility and the struggle women go through when they can't have kids and I… I just don't get that. At all. I recognize that is a personal failing rather than a failing of the story, but it still made me feel weird.

Plus, Peter is dealing with Rina's two sons who now have a new sibling.

Jake said, "You want to go riding with me, Sammy?"

"I've got a lot of homework."

Decker watched his stepson's frustration grow. "Jake, give me about an hour, and I'll take you out, okay? It'll be cooler, and I'll be more settled. In the meantime, grab a snack and do your homework."

The boy's blue eyes sparkled. "Thanks, Dad!"

"I'll go, too," Sammy announced.

"Who needs you if Dad's coming?" Jacob said.

It's an interesting mystery, and I liked that the ending wasn't neat and tidy the way American mysteries often are.

Published by William Morrow

Rating: 7/10

Sanctuary (1994)

The seventh Rina and Peter Drecker mystery.

Marge feels like she is being given crappy assignments by their new lieutenant in homicide because she's a women. So when she's given a case where a woman has reported her brother's entire family missing, Marge takes it seriously–partially because she wants to prove she can do the work, but also because the missing man is a diamond seller.

He knew there were lots of Orthodox Jews in the diamond business. He also knew there were lots of secular Israelis like Yalom in the business as well. He wondered how they got along. Then he wondered if there were other people besides Jews in the business at all.

Then Peter goes home to a childhood friend of Rina's looking to "vacation" with Rina and Peter, bringing her four children out to California. Coincidentally, the wife's husband is a diamond dealer in NY.

And if you were unsure that this mystery was set in the 90s:

"Cabs are expensive, Honey." Rina hoisted a case on top of the car. "I think we can make it if you don't mind squeezing. We'll have to double-belt, though. I'll keep the car seat up front."

And Peter is still owning up to having been in Vietnam.

Orit turned and pointed to Decker. "You have the look. You were in the Gulf War?"

Decker shook his head. "Vietnam."

This story was interesting, but 1) I got irritated at Rina who I immediately knew was going to do something stupid as soon as she set off following someone 2) the coincidence of the two diamond dealers seemed a bit much 3) it seems a little unlikely that even under the strict conditions, Peter would have been able to jaunt off to Israel.

Published by Harper Collins

Rating: 7/10

Justice (1995)

I am very conflicted about this story.

The story is told from (mostly) two points of view: from Rina and Peter's point of view, and from the point of the two teenagers, Chris and Terry. It felt like there was more of the teenagers than of the grown-ups, but that might be because those sections were more compelling. After all, we have two teenagers going through something extremely complicated, and both had extremely difficult backgrounds.

"You said he was hard to read. What did you mean by that?"

Kathy thought a moment. "Chris is very… even-tempered. A trait like that stands out when you're dealing with a thousand hormonally imbalanced adolescents."

"You know what, Terry? You're a terrible liar."

She blinked back tears. "I'm not lying. I'm skirting the truth with the judicious use of modifiers."

Which brings me to my issues with this story–not only are we seeing Chris mostly through Rina's eyes, what we see just of him is also unreliable. Yet, it's hard not to have sympathy for a kid whose past is so very terrible. Terry's past is also hard, but not in the same terrible way as Chris, which is what makes Chris so difficult.

Chris has had a terrible past, but has come out of it able to function in society. And it's very difficult to see that with one exception, nothing good seems to come to Terry. Yes, life is unfair, but that doesn't mean I wanted to spend so much time with someone who gets shat upon by the world.

Published by William Morrow