When the police are called to an apartment because of loud growling noises and a terrible stench, LAPD lieutenant Peter Decker knows this case will be unlike anything he has handled before. As police and animal experts get their first peek inside the apartment and see a full-grown tiger and the corpse of a reclusive billionaire, readers realize that Faye Kellerman’s latest Decker/Lazarus novel, THE BEAST, presents an unusual and intriguing premise.
The body is that of elderly eccentric inventor Hobart Penny, and it quickly becomes apparent that the tiger is not the killer. But who is? Decker, along with detectives Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver, begin the investigation with little to go on, but right away suspect money as the motive. Perhaps the murderer is Vignette Garrison, the director of an animal refuge dependent on Penny’s money and a beneficiary of his will, not to mention someone who has a rapport with the tiger. Or perhaps the culprit is the uncooperative landlord George Paxton, a man with access to Penny and anxiety around the cops. As they dig further, though, Decker, Dunn and Oliver learn of Penny’s dangerous sexual fetishes and make some gruesome discoveries that further complicate the investigation.
"THE BEAST is a fun read with a good and grisly crime to solve. It flows better than some recent Kellerman novels and will keep fans happy with its unique story, familiar characters and a couple of good surprises."
While Decker is searching for clues and answers to the bizarre death of Penny --- a murder involving not just sex and money but exotic animals as well --- he is also dealing with the ongoing problems of his foster son, Gabriel Whitman, son of the infamous Chris Donatti. Gabe, home on break from his studies at Juilliard, has just finished testifying in the case of Dylan Lashay (the action leading to that testimony takes place in the previous Decker/Lazarus book, GUN GAMES) and is frustrated that he is forbidden to see his girlfriend, Yasmine. Much of the novel is spent explaining Gabe’s point of view and examining this passionate teenage relationship in particular. Kellerman has been developing the Donatti/Whitman story over several novels, and it is interesting to see Gabe growing into a strong (if sometimes too remarkably precocious) character in his own right. The author may be setting him up for a conversion to Judaism in a future novel, which would make for a compelling story.
But between Gabe’s story and the case of Hobart Penny, there is little in THE BEAST concerning the marriage of Decker and his wife, Rina Lazarus, a relationship that is the backbone of this series. Here, Lazarus is barely a supporting figure; she greets Decker after work and is on hand to serve food, but does little else, which is disappointing. None of the other Decker/Lazarus children make an appearance here. Because of that, as well as talk of the couple leaving Los Angeles and Gabe’s future plans to convert and continue to work as a concert pianist, the novel feels a bit like a bridge to get all the characters someplace new.
Still, THE BEAST is a fun read with a good and grisly crime to solve. It flows better than some recent Kellerman novels and will keep fans happy with its unique story, familiar characters and a couple of good surprises. Those unfamiliar with the series can jump right in and not feel lost.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 16, 2013