A man lays naked and dead in a seedy motel room in upper Manhattan. His teenage niece is missing. When Lt. Peter Decker responds to a frantic call from his half-brother, another uncle of the missing girl, he finds himself far from his Los Angeles home, caught between family and a psychopathic killer.
But is that killer the one who killed the missing girl’s uncle? Was he actually the girl’s ticket to safety? Could he be both?
Faye Kellerman’s Stone Kiss is a recent addition to Kellerman’s Peter Decker series. Decker is a Los Angeles detective trying to balance his life between the violence his job immerses him in, and the quiet life of an observant conservative Jew that he shares with his wife Rina Lazarus at home. It’s a sometimes uneasy coupling, since Decker came to observant Judaism as an adult when he married Rina, who herself made sacrifices to meld her religious observances to the reality of sharing life with Decker. Rina is an active part of this case as she is all the books in the series.
In Stone Kiss, Rina and Decker travel to NYC with their young daughter Hannah for a few days to visit with their college-age sons, Rina’s children from a previous marriage, after Decker’s brother Jonathan’s call. At first Decker just meets with the NYPD detectives working the murder case, but when a psychopathic killer from his past resurfaces with a role in the case Decker finds himself drawn deeper into a confusing miasma of sexual exploitation, twisted loyalties, family obligations and the increasing evidence that all is not right in the Jewish community the young girl comes from. The dead man worked with his father and brother in the family’s electronics stores, recovering from drug addiction and serving as a confidant to his young niece. The girl’s father, the dead man’s brother, at first welcomes Decker, then suddenly attacks him viciously and orders him gone. And without Decker’s knowledge, the killer from his past gets in touch with Rina, who herself faces choices about helping Decker or lying to him.
The story is complex but deftly handled by Kellerman, who is strong in both characterization and plot. The book stands alone as a worthy read, but the series as a whole is an interesting and thoughtful look at how very religious Jews accommodate their faith and rituals to the pressures and temptations of modern life – and much of the insight would apply to those of other faiths as well. However, the insight is a byproduct of the characters Kellerman has chosen to tell her tales; the point is the story, and Kellerman succeeds in making Stone Kiss difficult to put down.
(For those new to the series, Sacred and Profane is the book where Decker first meets widow Rina Lazarus, and their romance begins. Also, The Quality of Mercy is Kellerman’s first non-Decker/Lazarus novel.)