New York Times best-selling author Faye Kellerman's beloved Decker and Lazarus embark on a new life in upstate New York - and find themselves entangled in deception, intrigue, and murder in picturesque elite college town. As a detective lieutenant with the LAPD, Peter Decker witnessed enough ugliness and chaos for a lifetime. Now, he and his devoted wife, Rina Lazarus, are ready to enjoy the quiet beauty of upstate New York, where they can be closer to their four adult children and their foster son. But working for the Greenbury Police department isn't as fulfilling as Decker hoped. While Rina has adapted beautifully to their new surroundings, Decker is underwhelmed and frustrated by his new partner, Tyler McAdams, a former Harvard student and young buck with a bad 'tude. Just when he thinks he's made a mistake, Decker is called to his first real crime here - a possible break-in at the local cemetery. At first, it seems like a false alarm until it's discovered that a mausoleum's stunning Tiffany panels have been replaced by forgeries. Then, a coed at one of the exclusive local colleges is brutally murdered. Poking into the hallowed halls of academia to find a killer, Decker and McAdams are drawn deep into a web of dark secrets, cold-case crimes, international intrigue, and ruthless people who kill for sport. Suddenly, the job is anything but boring. This case just might be too much to handle and Decker will have to draw on every ounce of experience that he has garnered in the past 30 years as a homicide cop. And then again, even that might not be enough!
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"Murder 101" is much better than "The Beast," the book that preceded it in the Decker/Lazarus saga--but then, almost anything would be. That said, as a longtime fan of the series I enjoyed this one, including the new setting, new characters, and the new narrator.
New setting: Peter Decker has left the LAPD and taken a "semiretirement" job as detective for the Greenbury, NY police department, a quiet town whose claim to fame is being the host of five small but prestigious colleges (hence the academic reference in the title). The move means Peter and Rina now live within easy driving distance of their myriad (and multicultural) kids and grandkids. Rina is still hosting Shabbos dinners, teaching Hebrew, and baking cookies. Peter has not acclimated quite so well, but perks up when a local art theft leads to murder and he's suddenly pulling all-nighters, living on coffee and bagels, and getting shot at again.
New character: Decker is also back in his Wise Old Dad role. His new partner, Tyler McAdams, is a Park Avenue trust funder, a recent Harvard grad who is resisting the law school road his loudmouthed, overbearing, 1-percent-entitlee father insists on. Like Chris Donati and Gabe Whitman before him, Tyler is a young man with a chip on his shoulder and daddy issues. And, like Chris and Gabe, he soon comes to respect and admire Saint Peter and to venerate Saint Rina (if I may be excused the mixed religious metaphor in referring to the Orthodox Jewish Deckers).
New Narrator: I really like Richard Ferrone's narration. Upbeat and energizing, yet easy to listen to. The one (minor) flaw is that he does not even try to do feminine voices, and I was often taken aback to realize that Rina had been the one speaking. Peter and Tyler sound a little too much alike, but interestingly all the minor characters--college frat boys, New York art dealers, Park Avenue matrons, Boston police, and Harvard profs--are subtly and neatly distinguishable.
I think if you’ve enjoyed other books in the series you’ll probably like this one. It’s not the place to start the Decker’s long story, over which they’ve aged in real time (among the very few series regulars to do so), although Rina at 50-something is apparently still quite astonishingly beautiful.
There was one aspect of the book that I found distracting at first and eventually just found amusing. The fictional town of Greenbury and its fictional 5 colleges is at different points in the book described as being in upstate New York; closer to Boston than to Manhattan; about 1.5 hours by car from Boston; *and* closer to the Hamptons than to Manhattan. Now, I’m not geographically challenged, but I couldn’t triangulate any location in the northeast that met all those criteria. But I enjoyed my visit anyway.
Normally I wouldn't even have read this book, but I'd come across a free copy of Kellerman's immediately prior book, "The Beast", which alluded to Peter Decker's retirement from LAPD and his and Rina's move to the East Coast, and that piqued my interest. Curious about how that could happen, I bought this one.
Sigh. Faye Kellerman wrote some of the world's finest fiction in the early books in this series -- Ritual Bath, Sacred and Profane, etc etc. They were -- and remain -- exquisite, in any sense you want to consider them. Informative, interesting, great characters, unique world, they are absolutely fascinating, just the best. I've read and listened to the first five or six many times over. Then? I don't know what happened, but the books became clunkers -- maybe she got tired of her characters herself, I don't know. In any event, I stopped reading them.
So here we are, in 2014, 28 years after the publication meeting Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus in "Ritual Bath", and I realized I've grown up with these people. And they've aged too -- there's no Kinsey Millhone fantasy-life going on here: they don't remain ever-youthful, stuck in 1986. They've grown up, now grown old -- and boy, they never seem to be able to stop talking about it.
That's one of the main problems with this book. Since I consumed this as an audible book, I can't account for actual pages, but it seems to me that there are very few pages in this book where there isn't some agonizing reference to their advanced ages. Newbie rich-kid and resident twerp Tyler McAdams constantly refers to Decker as "Old Man", which is insolent enough, but that's just for starters. Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver -- Decker's former partner/coworkers, make cameo appearances, and they, too, grouse about growing old. Then Rina starts chiming in, reminding Decker that he ISN'T old, which means, of course, that he is.
So more than a "mystery" -- and a slower moving, less exciting mystery would be hard to find -- this book is a meditation on growing old, both them and me. I couldn't help remembering who I was, when I first came across those first books, back in the mid-80's, where I was, how I, too, have changed and grown... well, for me, I've matured, not grown old. They story line here focuses on art theft and forgery -- "art" in the broadest possible sense, everything from paintings to icons to books to tapestries and funerary art -- and I confess I felt inundated with way too many factoids about all of it. Someone wanted to get that whole Master's thesis research in here, I'd say, but except for those students of art history among us, I'd guess that most readers will tune out for most of it. Nice to see the infamous and very real legal battle over the Chabad library as a fictional plot point -- surely the first time ever, for that. But still, most of this is too detailed for a lot of us.
Which means we're left with a book on aging.... and what to do after retirement. Scott Oliver has also retired and is at loose ends, wondering where to move, what to do with himself. Peter doesn't seem too happy in his new quasi-retirement status. Marge Dunn at least has her new love, and Rina? Well, she's happy doing whatever she does -- although she's come a long way since Ritual Bath, too. (To think of that early Rina, from 1986, who now, in this book, happily agrees to live -- and eat! -- in the home of a non-Jew is interesting all by itself. Really, Rina? Wow.)
The thing is, I'll now probably buy whatever book Kellerman writes next, to see what follows this one. Personally, I don't think this living-on-the-east-coast thing is going to work out. I think that sooner rather than later, attending Grandparent's Day at the elementary schools isn't going to be enough for this pair. Or maybe I'm just projecting. I am, after all, simply mature, not "old" like Peter Decker.