Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sacred and Profane

Sacred and Profane
by Faye Kellerman
Recommended Ages: 14+

This is the second of now 25 mysteries featuring police detective Peter Decker and his pious wife Rina Lazarus – well, she'll eventually be his wife (spoiler!) but they're not quite there in this installment. At this point, she's still a widow with two small sons from her marriage to a perfectly lovely Jewish divinity student who, sadly, got brain cancer. And he – well, he's exploring the possibility of converting to Orthodox Judaism, which would enable her to marry him. But things are complicated. Like, for example, the case he catches when one of Rina's boys stumbles on the skeletons of two young women during a camping trip.

Peter doesn't usually do homicide work – juvenile and sex crimes is more his beat – but the genres, as it were, overlap. At least one of the victims was a high school girl who disappeared out of an all but perfect teenage life. The girl strongly reminds Peter of his daughter Cindy, which just adds to the strain that eventually leads him to have a fight with Rina that left me, for one, cringing. At the same time, however, I have to admire a writer who is willing to show her hero in such an unattractive light. What remains to be seen (though the book gently hints at it, toward the end) is how Peter and Rina can possibly mend their relationship after this.

As for the case, well, it just has to do with some creepy old perverts who like to knock kids around (and worse), a chilling reconstruction of one sociopath's path to murder, a raid on a private viewing of a snuff film that takes a doubly gruesome turn, a novel approach to using dental records to identify remains, and some heartbreaking glimpses into the emotional wreckage wrought by child abuse, sexual exploitation and murder. Decker plunges into the moral cesspool of "Hollyweird" to wrest information out of prostitutes, pimps and pornographers. He risks career suicide to go after someone rich and powerful implicated in all this filth. He holds the hand of a dying girl and an emotionally ruined young man. And he draws a bead on a bad guy who's holding a gun to a hostage's head.

All that in the same book in which a secular man wrestles with faith – not only in God or in the power of prayer, but also in his love for a woman whose heart is already his. Amazing, right? While the mystery side of the book is unflinching in its look into the darkest byways of American society – producing plenty of sorrow and mayhem galore – the personal side delves into basic questions of heart and soul, with equal unwillingness to look away from the unpretty parts. This makes the characters seem to stand up out of the page in multi-layered relief, moving and breathing and feeling remarkably real.

Book 3, for those who want to join me in (gradually) working through the whole series, is titled Milk and Honey. Among Faye Kellerman's non-Decker/Lazarus titles are the novels The Quality of Mercy, Moon Music and Straight into Darkness.

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