In the Decker/Lazarus novels, Faye Kellerman's characters spend as much time navigating family issues as they do solving crimes. That is especially true of the latest, GUN GAMES, in which a member of the Donetti family once again takes center stage.
"[GUN GAMES] is sure to please fans invested in these well-developed characters and those looking for a character-based crime story."
Fifteen-year-old Chris Whitman, son of the infamous gangster Chris Donetti, has been left in the care of LAPD lieutenant Peter Decker and his wife, Rina Lazarus. Decker and Donetti go way back, and the couple stepped up to help Chris when his pregnant mother fled to India. Angry at his parents, Chris, a musical prodigy, throws himself into his piano playing. Despite the warmth of Peter and Rina's home, and the welcome he receives from their family, Chris is lonely. Until he meets Yasmine, the beautiful 14-year-old Persian girl who attends the Jewish day school where Rina works. They share a love of music and soon find themselves feeling something much stronger than puppy love. But because of religious and cultural differences, not to mention their young age, they have to sneak around. Their secret seems safe until they cross paths with a gang of rich kids who Decker is hoping holds the key to two recent private school suicides.
While Chris and Yasmine meet early in the morning for coffee and text message all night, Decker and his band of LAPD detectives try to figure out why two teenagers at Bell and Wakefield, an exclusive prep school, would take their own lives. Where had they gotten the guns? Why were their computers stolen? Was there a connection between the two incidents? It doesn't have the makings of a high-profile or dangerous case, but as they continue to work, they discover the sinister power of the high school's psychopathic big man on campus, Dylan Lashay.
These two plot lines --- the one focusing on Chris and the other revolving around the investigation of the suicides --- intersect in an interesting and dramatic, if slightly too neat, way. GUN GAMES is less fast-paced or page-turning than some of Kellerman's other books. Much of it details the budding relationship and sexuality of Yasmine and Chris. Rina Lazarus is just a background figure here, and the police work is pretty routine and even uneventful. Peter Decker does have another case, the hunt for a serial killer thought to be in New Mexico, on the backburner, but there is no resolution to it. That fact, coupled with the way the book concludes, makes it feel like a prelude to another volume about serial killer Garth Hammerling, and the continued complicated relationship between the families of Decker and Donetti.
Even without the usual chills and thrills, GUN GAMES satisfies. Kellerman's focus on the dynamic between Chris and Yasmine and other emotional relationships is a bit of a departure, but it’s a theme she may better develop in future novels. Though HANGMAN, the previous Decker/Lazarus book, introduces Chris, GUN GAMES can be read as a stand-alone. And though it lacks the intensity and action found in most of Kellerman's books, this one is sure to please fans invested in these well-developed characters and those looking for a character-based crime story.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 12, 2012