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Book Review: The Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman

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A former nerd and high school outcast, brilliant but socially inept, the oddly named Genoa Greeves, wishes to re-open a cold case: the murder of the only teacher who ever gave her the time of day. Dr. Bennett Alston Little was a god to many students, handsome, intelligent, compassionate, devoted to the underdog; he made a tiny corner of Genoa’s life less than a living hell. When she reads about another similar murder, she thinks the two might be linked. Now that she is a multi-millionaire, she is willing to bribe the LAPD and Peter Decker to re-investigate Little’s unsolved death.

A promising beginning, but then Genoa as a character is all but dropped and the plot takes so many twists and turns and introduces so many other characters, many of them supremely uninteresting, that The Mercedes Coffin, the newest detective novel to feature Decker and his perfect wife Rina Lazarus, becomes a complete bore. Frankly I really didn’t care whodunit.

Once upon a time, the Decker/Lazarus novels were a treat. At the beginning of the series, when Decker solved the case of the death of Rina’s husband, then fell in love with and married the young widow with two young sons and converted to Orthodox Judaism, author Faye Kellerman had a very cool thing going. Over the years, Decker, daughter Cindy, from his first marriage, Rina’s boys, and the baby, Hannah, that he and Rina had together, formed an interesting blended family. Life in southern California, their struggles with making a Modern Orthodox Jewish home, crime-fighting together and all that jazz made for fun and interesting reading. And Rina was right there with Decker solving the puzzles.

But over the years, Rina's cooking and homemaking have taken front seat to murder, Cindy and the boys have left home, Hannah is no longer cute, and Kellerman’s plots, which she seems to be struggling mightly with, have grown bizarrely contrived. Her last book The Burnt House was nearly unreadable, and The Mercedes Coffin is worse. Had I not had to review this novel, I would have put it down after the first several pages. And I counted myself a fan until the past few books.

The writing is often stale and cliched: “Rina’s eyes twinkled flashes of blue,” and sometimes completely unintelligible: “The old man had thin gray hair with blue eyes.” And there’s even a typo: “when” for “went.” You have to wonder: Where on earth was the editor in all of this?

In these bizarre and tough economic times, when you’re spending twenty six bucks for a hardcover book, the least you can hope for is a great plot and superior writing. I don’t expect fans will take my advice, but if you simply have to read this one, check it out of the library.

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About Lisa Solod

  • Susan

    I couldn’t agree more. I used to look forward to Faye Kellerman’s books and even enjoyed them more than her husband’s. I just finished this one and had to struggle to remember the second murder victim and who killed him. What a bore.

  • Nancy Hoffman

    The plot made so little sense that Peter Decker had to explain it in detail at the end (and even then much was left unsolved). I am sorry I purchased this book. Lesson learned.