The latest mystery out from Faye Kellerman (one half of the best-selling Kellerman writing couple --- Jonathan is her husband) is a first-class Beach Read.
One, I read so much of it while sitting on the beach that my shoulders burned And with the sunscreen I wear, I don't burn easily!
Two, I love mysteries in large part because I want to be kept in suspense as long as possible, but I am usually able to guess the who in whodunits before it's disclosed. In PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD, I didn't know until Kellerman wanted me to know. It's a thrill when a book can keep me hanging until the end, as this one did.
The story: A celebrated heart surgeon, Dr. Azor Moses Sparks, opens this book performing his miracles in the operating room. As a Fundamentalist Christian, he invokes God as the patient goes under and requests that she pray with him. Her last thoughts: "Grace felt herself going under. No longer was her health in her hands. It was up to Sparks. It was up to God. At that moment, they were one and the same."
Next chapter: The police lieutenant receives an urgent call at home to come to the scene of a crime.
The victim? Dr. Azor Moses Sparks. He's found stabbed and shot in the seat of his car, parked in the back of a trendy restaurant. Kellerman wittily describes the brutally murdered body as "An abattoir. Jackson Pollock in shades of red and brown."
Now the obvious question: Whodunit? The possibilities range far and wide There are Sparks's six adult children and wife (all of whom inherit a lot of money at his death), his jealous colleagues in a pharmaceutical deal, and his weekend warrior friends --- some rough-and-tumble outlaw bikers. This motley crew contains many people with possible motives, allowing Kellerman to weave dead ends and leads throughout the story, concealing the final clues until the very end.
PRAYERS FOR THE DEAD is Kellerman's latest installment of her series starring Peter Decker (a police lieutenant) and his Orthodox Jewish wife, Rina Lazarus. Their honesty and moral fiber (seriously!) help to separate this book from other mysteries. The level of thoughtfulness, intelligence and complexity of these characters makes them believable --- and makes you want to know them. The relationship between husband and wife informs the plot of the book (she's a long lost friend/lover? of Sparks's priest son) as much as it shapes the story's moral grounding.
If you're able to figure out who the murderer is earlier than I was --- or even if you're clueless, too --- I'd love to hear from you. Happy reading!
Most importantly, come ask Faye Kellerman questions when she appears at THE BOOK REPORT next Wednesday, October 2 at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. Pacific. For now, read a little bit more about her in the Author Guest section.
Reviewed by Jennifer Levitsky (BookpgJL), for THE BOOK REPORT on July 1, 1997