Picks and Pans Review: Milk and Honey

updated 05/28/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/28/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Faye Kellerman

Sergeant Peter Decker of the Los Angeles Police Department does not lack for things to do. There's an old friend, Abel, from his Vietnam years, charged with the rape and slash of a prostitute. There's Rina Lazarus, widowed mother of two, religious and sensual, a woman Decker hopes to marry—some day. And then there's the rotting bodies, a family of beekeepers, found in a huddle in the hills of L.A.

Peter Decker, however, has learned how to cope. As deftly drawn by Kellerman, he's not a caricature cop, someone who is lost without a heavy caseload and a double-dose of street action. Instead he is a man of religious convictions who has learned to deal with both the humanity and inhumanity of his job. It is why he survives, stays sane and solves the majority of the crimes that come his way. It is his third appearance (with Rina Lazarus) in a Kellerman mystery (Sacred and Profane, The Ritual Bath), and he has grown into a well-rounded, determined, believable creation.

Lazarus matches Decker step for step. Her strong streak of Judaism seems to provide her with the balance to handle the troubling reality the new man in her life must face on a daily basis. They are, hands down, the most refreshing mystery couple around.

Milk and Honey hits all its targets, dead-on. The secondary characters—from Decker's partner, Marge Dunn, to the mysterious inhabitants of the honey farm to the Lazarus children—are rich enough to carry their own weight, and the dual cases are wrapped in ways that are not the least bit predictable—which is about all you can ask of any mystery.

Kellerman, along with Linda Barnes, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky (not to mention P.D. James and Mary Higgins Clark), has helped shake and rattle the previously male-dominated mystery field in recent years. Her action sequences may be as violent as anything the guys can dish, but her novels are clearly character-driven and not overly dependent on a steady flow of blood to move the story along. (Morrow, $18.95)

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