Peter Decker is turning 60 years old. His oldest daughter is pregnant, his two sons are far from home, and his youngest daughter is about to graduate high school and move to Israel for college. But his police work is keeping him too busy to take it all in: his hands are full with an unusual murder and a couple of missing persons. To complicate things all the more, he finds himself guardian of a 14-year-old boy whose mother is in hiding --- if his father hasn't killed her already. It’s going to be a memorable birthday for the hardworking LAPD lieutenant, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in Faye Kellerman's latest Decker/Lazarus crime novel, HANGMAN.
The action starts when a couple who just won't stay in Decker's past shows up again. Decker had met Chris Whitman and Terry McLaughlin when they were teenagers involved in a murder case. Sixteen years later, Whitman is now Chris Donatti, a ruthless hit man, and McLaughlin is an emergency physician. They are married and have a teenage son of their own. When McLaughlin calls Decker to witness a conversation between her and Donatti, he doesn't imagine it will lead to her disappearance and his custody of 14-year-old Gabe Whitman. The lieutenant's plans for tracking down McLaughlin and keeping her and Gabe safe from Donatti are complicated, though, when a construction worker finds the body of a young woman hanging from the rafters of an unfinished house.
The search for Adrianna Blanc's killer leads Decker and his team of detectives into the social world of a group of friends who like to party and have a penchant for rough, casual sex. As the investigation goes on, Decker and his colleagues, Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver, realize that there are a few missing persons and a lot of unanswered questions in the case. From Los Angeles to Las Vegas, they follow the number one suspect, Garth Hammerling, but find only murder and confusion in his wake. Could Hammerling be a serial killer? And what about Chuck Tinsley, the man who found Adrianna's body? How does he fit into the picture? While Decker works around the clock to solve the crime, he is still trying to find McLaughlin and taking care of Gabe.
Gabe's presence in the Deckers’ home gives readers a view into one of the things that makes these books so enjoyable: the relationship among Decker, his wife, Rina Lazarus, and their entire family. The blended family is lovingly written by Kellerman, who has made them religious but not preachy or annoyingly moralistic. As usual, Lazarus is the perfect counterpart to her husband. And bringing Gabe into the picture allows Kellerman to give their teenage daughter, Hannah, a larger role in the novel as the two teens get to know each other and become allies.
HANGMAN works for a number of reasons. Besides the finely written and well-developed main characters, the mysteries are compelling and the police investigation is interesting. While most everything is neatly tied up in the end, Kellerman leaves a few loose ends that give the novel not only a more realistic feel but surely will allow her to revisit some characters and ideas in a future book. HANGMAN demonstrates why she is such a popular crime writer and is a great addition to her Decker/Lazarus series.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011