30 September 2007

Another by Kellerman

When I told Nancy how much I'd enjoyed reading the new Faye Kellerman book, (The Burnt House), she said I should read the first of Kellerman's books, The Ritual Bath, to find out about the origin of the characters.

So I stopped at the Northfield Library and found the 1986 debut novel of, as the jacket so kindly told me, "a gifted storyteller... a dentist, an expert fencer, a musician who plays four instruments, a guitar maker — and the mother of three young children." Her mother-in-law must have been so proud. The photo on the back cover is of a girl who doesn't look old enough to have graduated from college. (She was in her mid-30s when this book was published. Maybe she used a college graduation photo for the book cover.) Faye Kellerman was an overachiever 20 years ago. I wonder did she write that profile herself? Or did her agent write it?

Well, she wrote the book. It's a mystery novel! It's a romance novel! It's a police procedural novel! It's a romance! It's an anthropology paper on life in an Orthodox yeshiva. It's a romance!

From the first time LAPD detective Peter Decker meets the widow Rina Lazarus, you suspect it's more a romance than a detective story. In the end it's about half and half, but by the end I think all readers will suspect that deep in her heart, Kellerman wanted this to be a romance. And she wanted to write more stories about Decker and Lazarus. (By the way, even high school sophomores with a bit of Biblical literacy will recognize the symbolism of the widow Lazarus' name, even though its origins are in a Christian gospel. It's enough to give cheap thrills to English majors.)

Kellerman sets up the romance by channeling widow Lazarus when she meets Decker. "He was a big man, she thought, with strong features and, despite the fair skin and ginger hair, dark penetrating eyes. He looked intimidating yet competent...

A few paragraphs later, she channels Decker. "She had an intangible presence — a quite elegance. And she didn't cover her hair with a kerchief like the others, allowing him a view of her thick, black mane. There was something classic about her face — the oval shape, creamy skin, full, soft mouth, startling blue eyes..."

You'll know in one of the later chapters, when the Rosh Yeshiva says, "Your biological father was Jewish," and Decker responds, "And so was my biological mother," where the Decker-Lazarus relationship is going to end up. (Not in this book, but somewhere down the line.)

What you don't know, until the very end, is who the bad guy is. Kellerman does a good job of outlining the characters and the suspects, hanging out some red herrings, and telling the story.

It's a good romance/mystery. The yeshiva culture is foreign enough to me to make this as cross-culturally interesting as stories from Scandinavia. That did add a good dimension.

Given how much I liked the dentist/musician/instrument maker/mother's latest book, I will go back and read some of the in-betweens. Without your recommendations, I'll probably just check out what's available at the library and hope it's not so much romance.

Do you have any recommendations?

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