Best-selling mystery writer Faye Kellerman returns to her roots by revisiting the scene of two crimes in "Stone Kiss," her best book in many years.
After several suspense novels with wildly improbable plots, Kellerman is back on firm ground in "Stone Kiss," which is much closer in tone to her early Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus novels and features a story that revolves around Orthodox Judaism and its often uncomfortable relationships with modern America.
Decker gets a call from his half-brother, Jonathan, a Hassidic rabbi in upstate New York. The naked body of Jonathan's brother-in-law has been found in a low-rent Manhattan hotel room with a bullet behind his ear. Worse, the dead man -- who had a drug problem -- had been in charge that day of his 15-year-old niece, who is now missing.
Jonathan begs Decker for help, so Peter, Rina and the kids head east, not only to support the family but also to visit their college-age sons.
But Decker almost immediately finds himself resented by the family -- whose members are so strict they consider him and Rina to be no better than secular Jews -- and it becomes obvious that someone in the family with something to hide is fanning the flames even higher. Is it a scandal involving the dead man, or is there another crime being covered up?
Far removed from the resources of his LAPD and with little help from his relatives, Peter turns to an old foe, Chris Donatti, the sociopathic son of a Mafia boss, for help in finding the missing teen. When he's not killing people, Chris exploits young women as a pimp and a pornographer.
Donatti, however, also is the father of a boy whose mother is under Decker's protection. The fact that she is the one thing that Donatti actually loves in this world -- or as close to it as this lowlife can get -- gives Decker some leverage. Unfortunately, Donatti's other obsession is Rina, who helped foil him the last time they met.
Decker walks a tightrope between barely helpful cops, the trigger-happy Donatti -- who turns out to have interests of his own to protect -- and openly hostile family members.
The only thing that keeps him going is the thought of an innocent teenager who is in danger through no fault of her own, and Decker cannot quit until she is rescued from the crossfire.
"Stone Kiss" is Kellerman 's best book since the last time Peter and Rina headed east and got caught up with a missing Orthodox teen in "Day of Atonement" (1994). Bringing back the memorably creepy Donatti from one of her better books since then (1996's "Justice") is also a great idea.
The novel includes enough complicated family matters -- the culture clash with the Hassidic Jews, Peter and Rina's domestic situations, the tangled relationships with the New York relatives, Donatti's lover and his "Family" itself -- to fill about three books by Kellerman 's husband, suspense writer Jonathan Kellerman , a former child psychologist.
When she stays on the firm ground of what she knows, Kellerman proves herself to be one of the best mystery writers working today. "Stone Kiss" is a welcome return to form.