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A Terrific Mystery & An Absolutely Refreshing Read!,
on 21 August 2005
Away for the weekend recently, I picked up a copy of Faye Kellerman's "Day of Atonement" in the guest bedroom's book basket, (nice touch), and found it to be an intriguing and refreshingly delightful mystery. I really do like noir, but have perhaps been reading too much of fiction's dark side lately. This is a terrific change of pace. Although Ms. Kellerman's novel has its share of gruesomeness - a boy's disappearance, a psychopathic killer, etc. - the ethnic/cultural aspect of the story is as unusual as a sleuth series which focuses on family values.
"Day of Atonement" is the fourth in the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels. However, one can easily get to know the characters and their history without having read the prior books. Peter Decker, a detective with the Los Angeles police, and his new bride Rina Lazarus are spending their honeymoon in Boro Park, Brooklyn, at the home of Rina's ex in-laws. Rina, an Orthodox Jewess had been widowed early in her first marriage and has two small sons. The couple and their boys are visiting for the High Holy Days, allowing the grandparents time with their grandchildren while Peter is still on vacation. Although Peter's birth mother was Jewish, he was raised as a Baptist and recently converted.
During the New Year dinner celebration, Peter is shocked when he comes face-to-face with a family secret, a bizarre coincidence which shakes him to the core. He has to put on his detective hat, however, even if he is discombobulated. As the meal begins, and then ends, it becomes apparent that a fourteen year-old boy is missing. Noam Levine, a relative of the family they are visiting, is a troubled youth, a real loner. Decker is called upon to use his best investigative skills to find the boy, who is in serious danger. Suspense builds as clues are discovered which show just how perilous Noam's situation is. Subplots involve Peter's past, along with his relationship with his new wife, sons and the community he has inherited through marriage. As Yom Kippur nears, (the holy Jewish Day of Atonement, a time for reflection and for forgiveness), all the narrative's various threads come together for a riveting climax.
Along with a compelling mystery, Ms. Kellerman provides a fascinating look inside an insular religious community trying to live according to the dictates of their faith. The three-dimensional characters come to life on the page. Both Rina and Peter grow individually, and as a couple, within the story. The chemistry between them is palpable. Rina is a particular appealing character. After a secular upbringing, she chose to become Orthodox. Her newly found independence, (a result of her relationship with Peter), her time as a single parent, and coping with terrors from her past combine to make her an individual well worth meeting. The novel's setting, and background are factual and handled with respect.
I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the humanity of the story and the characters, and details of the Orthodox Jewish customs and lifestyle. As a matter of fact as I finish this review I am about to pick up another book in the series.