A man walks into a trendy Los Angeles restaurant—a disgruntled ex-employee with an automatic weapon—and seconds later, thirteen people are dead and thirty-two more have been wounded. It is a heinous act of mass slaughter that haunts Homicide Detective Peter Decker.
Though eyewitnesses saw only the lone gunman—who apparently took his own life after his bloody work was done—evidence suggests more than one weapon was fired. It is a disturbing inconsistency that sends Decker racing headlong into a sordid, labyrinthine world of Southern California money and power, on an investigation that threatens to destroy his reputation and his career.
About the Author
Faye Kellerman lives with her husband, New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman, in Los Angeles, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hometown:Beverly Hills, California
Date of Birth:July 31, 1952
Place of Birth:St. Louis, Missouri
Education:B.A. in Mathematics, 1974; D.D.A., 1978
Read an Excerpt
Not Wendy Culligan, who was too busy pitching million dollar condos to a half-dozen Japanese businessmen more interested in her rear than in residences. Still, she patiently went about her spiel, talking about in-house services, drop dead views, revolving mortgages, and great resale values.
Leaning over the table, showing a touch of cleavage while spearing a jumbo shrimp off the seafood appetizer plate. Along with the prawns were oysters, abalone, gravlax, and raw sea-urchin sashimi, the last item a big hit with the Asianssomething about making them potent.
Menregardless of race, creed, or colorthought only about sex. And here she was, trying to earn an honest buck while they popped squiggly things into their mouths, washing the tidbits down with sake as they licked their lips suggestively.
What's a poor working girl to do?
Inwardly, Wendy acknowledged that Brenda, her boss, had been generous in arranging the dinner at Estelle's. The restaurant was exquisiteall silver and crystal and candle light. Antique mahogany buffets and chests rested against walls lined with elegant sky-blue Oriental silk screens. Exotic flower arrangements adorned every tablegiant lilies, imported orchids, and twotone roses. A hint of perfume, but never overwhelming. The chairs were not only upholstered in silky fabric but comfortable as well. Even the bar role she could have for life. If she was willing to indulge him from time to time. Which she did gracefully.
Good old Addie. As steady as the old gray mare.
Walter looked across the table, through the diamond-cut stemware. Good grade Waterford. Estelle had done it up nicely. Elegant without being pompous. And goodfood. No wonder the place was always jammed.
He'd had doubts about bringing Big Hair here. She had dolled up for the occasion, and much to Walter's surprise, she had pulled it off without looking cheap.
A gray-haired old lady smiled at him, nodded.
Walter nodded back.
Ah, recognition. It was sweet.
However, it was not quite as sweet as Big Hair's ass. Walter looked deeply into his table companion's baby blues, his eyes shifting downward to her superb surgically designed chest. He felt a tug in his pants and that was wonderful. At seventy-eight, no hard-on was ever taken for granted.
Face it, Walter said to himself. At seventy-eight, waking up in the morning was a cause for celebration.
So enamored of his sexual response and his beating heart, Walter didn't think about the serious young man leaning against the bar, his eyes as chilled as the drink he was nursing.
Carol Anger did glance at the thin young man in the green coat, thinking he looked familiar. She couldn't quite place him. A face that had changed and had changed again. But she couldn't dwell on it because she was too busy. Gretchen had called in sick and Carol was running double shift.
On her slate was a nice group of tables. Carol especially liked the party of sweet-sixteeners in the corner. Eight giggly girls trying to pretend they were grown-ups, decked out in sophisticated suits and too much makeup.
Like she had been at sixteensans the suits and jewelry of course. She had grown up in a home where money had always been tight. But down deep, all sixteen-year-old girls were the same.
Where had the time gone?
At first, right after her divorce, her life had been a blur of tears. Tears of fury at her ex, tears of gratitude at her parents for their love and understanding.
And their help.
Mom had come through. Always there when Carol needed her. Saying she'd take care of Billy so Carol could go back to nursing school. Carol had insisted on doing her fair share. Hence the job . . . this job. And it was a doozy.
She had Olaf to thank for that.
She had met him at a bar, had laughed when he had told her his name.
OLAF, THE VIKING MAN!
He had blushed when she laughed. Which of course had made her feel terrible. Olaf had come to America to be a cook. When he told her he worked at Estelle's, she had nearly fainted.
You're not a cook, she had chided. You're a chef!
Within a month, Olaf had convinced Estelle to give Carol a job interview. A week later, she was dressed in a tux and ready to work.
How she loved Olaf, with his half smile, his stoic manner, and his thick upper lip that was often dotted with sweat from the heat of the kitchen. She had often wondered how she could have been so upset over her failed marriage, since from it came all this good fortune. So occupied by her fate and work, Carol failed to see the thin young man's mouth turn into a twisted smile, his eyes as blank as snowdrifts.
Ken Wetzel didn't think twice about him. He was too busy slurping up oysters while giving his wife the bad news. He was trying to be as gentle as possible but it wasn't coming out right.
It wasn't that he didn't love Tess. He guessed he still did. She had been there for him, was still a decent wife, a good mother, and a passable lover. Unfortunately, she just didn't fit into his world anymore.
Especially since he had been promoted to assistant vice president.
He needed a partner who was more dynamic, not some ordinary woman whose sole occupation was raising children. Granted, the kids were good kids . . . Tess's doing. But that wasn't enough anymore. A woman had to know thingshow to dress, how to smile, how to make conversation about the vagaries of the market. A woman like that could help him get ahead. Trouble was, Tess was holding him back.
A great gal, but a high-school dropout. And with the last kid, she had gotten heavy. Those awful tents she wore. Why did the prints always have to be so garish? Why didn't she realize she would have looked more sophisticated and sleek in a plain black suit?
That was Tess.
Ken sighed inwardly, wishing she'd wipe the tears off her cheeks. Because she was embarrassing him. He closed his eyes for a moment, allowing himself a brief fantasy of Sherrie. Sherrie, with her milky eyes, her sensuous mouth her wonderful hips, her full breasts, and her MBA from Stanford.
They had met on interoffice E-mail, she being in marketing, he being two floors up in stock research. He joked that it had been love at first byte. The affair was almost immediate, fueled by the thrill of their respective infidelities and what each one could do for the other's career.
Yes, Ken still loved Tess on some level. And yes, Ken still cared for the kids. But life was about reaching one's polentiah. The marriage just wouldn't work any longer.
Times change, he had told her.
You move on.
With each pronouncement, Tess had shed a new batch of tears.
Still, the drama of the evening did little to quell his appetite. As much as he hated himself, he had to admit that telling Tess it was over was a definite high. The exhilaration of liberation.
Flying high with freedom, Ken paid no attention to the thin young man. Not even when the young man's face fell flat, turning his physiognomy into something inanimate, his eyes as murky as pond water.
No one even noticed when he reached into the pocket of his green Jacket.
Not until he pulled out a gun and the lead began to fly.
But by then, it was too late.
Copyright ) 1997 by Faye Kellerman
Table of Contents
On Wednesday, August 6, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Faye Kellerman, author of SERPENT'S TOOTH.
Moderator: BarnesandNoble@aol welcomed mystery author Faye Kellerman. Kellerman earned a D.D.S. from UCLA but never practiced dentistry. Instead she decided to follow in her husband's footsteps and write. After numerous discarded attempts at romance novels, Kellerman settled on the mystery genre. She has since published 11 books, many of them bestsellers. Her latest blockbuster is SERPENT'S TOOTH.
JainBN: Good evening, Faye! Thank you for joining us tonight.
Faye Kellerman: It's a pleasure to be here.
JainBN: Congratulations on the publication of SERPENT'S TOOTH. We're going to turn our attention over to the audience questions, if that's okay with you.
Faye Kellerman: It's great. For some odd reason, my computer refuses to capitalize. So please bear with me.
JainBN: We completely understand! Don't fret.
Faye Kellerman: Them's the breaks.
JainBN: Here's a comment....
Comment: I just want to let you know that I think your books are excellent. I just saw that the new one was released, and I can't wait to read it.
Faye Kellerman: Thanks so much for your nice words. I hope it lives up to your expectation.
Question: How much research did you do with the L.A.P.D. for SERPENT'S TOOTH? I just bought it the other day, and I read it in two nights!
Faye Kellerman: I've visited many L.A.P.D. substations. In the beginning, about ten years ago, people were very open. Since Rodney King and O.J., they're a bit more reserved. But I've never had trouble getting information either in person or over the phone. By the way, I'm glad you found it a fast read. Thanks!
JainBN: Faye, what percentage of the writing process is actual research for you?
Faye Kellerman: I do all my own research. I not only find it interesting but I also get lots of ideas by accident. When I browse AOL and the net, I may at first be looking up one topic but suddenly something else catches my eye. It all goes in the memory banks and the research file. What I don't research -- or can't research -- I fill in with imagination.
Question: I've read all your novels and thoroughly enjoy them. I especially love the way you weave Rina's past into them. I was very moved by her relationship with Abrahm. I thought it was dynamite. Are we going to learn more about Rina before her Peter Decker days?
Faye Kellerman: PRAYERS was Rina's pre-Decker days. I'm sure more will be revealed about both characters in future novels. That's the great thing about working with a large cast of characters. There's always so much history to learn from any one of them.
Question: Are you ever going to stray from the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus duo?
Faye Kellerman: As a matter of fact, the novel I am currently writing is a crime fiction story that takes place in Las Vegas. Like the Decker/Rina novels, it is a procedural with a large cast of characters. I chose Las Vegas because, like L.A., it is a city that deals in illusions. The Vegas Metro Police were very helpful and very open. I hope I've captured a side of the city that few people ever see. Las Vegas beyond the glitz.
JainBN: What's beyond the glitz in Vegas so far for you in this new book?
Faye Kellerman: The city has a very illustrious Wild West history. It was always a stopover for all sorts of benign and malignant characters. It's so much more than just a city of gangsters. What you hope to do in any novel is go beyond the obvious and bring out the humanity as well as the unique qualities of people and places.
Question: How much do you and your husband, Jonathan Kellerman, work together?
Faye Kellerman: We don't work together, and I think that's why we've been married for 25 years. We do read our manuscripts in progress and critique them much in the same way you critique what you are reading. Luckily, I love Jonathan's work, and I usually have only superlative words to say about what he's doing.
Question: I've read all of your books and loved them. I found THE QUALITY OF MERCY very different. Why so different from the rest?
Faye Kellerman: Any novelist wants to expand his or her horizons. When I wrote QUALITY, I wanted to wax a bit more poetic. Writing a historical novel allowed me to use language in a different way. It was a welcome break from the hard-boiled detective dialogue I had been writing. Having said that, I'm very happy to be writing in crime fiction. I think the genre expresses and explores social issues in fast-paced and, yes, exciting tales. I read crime novels; I write them as well. God bless Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, and James M. Cain.
Question: Do you know the endings of your books before you start writing, or do you let things unfold in your head as you write?
Faye Kellerman: I'm a meticulous outliner, so I have a pretty good idea of how the plot is going to be resolved. But the story always -- underline always -- takes on a life of its own. Characters who you had originally thought to be evil turn out to be redeemable. And nice guys often have secrets. My characters really do talk to me. They really do.
Question: I loved PRAYERS OF THE DEAD! Any chance we will ever see it or SERPENT'S TOOTH on the big screen?
Faye Kellerman: I'm very reluctant to sell my books to movies. They are basically character driven, which is always a hard thing to bring to the big screen. Movies are so much more effective with special effects and hooks. I'd hate to see my characters butchered. They have very special significance to me. I'm not saying never. But I am saying not just yet.
Question: How accurate a portrayal of the Los Angeles lifestyle do you believe you give?
Faye Kellerman: There is no one L.A. lifestyle. Like anyplace else, L.A. is an amalgam of its inhabitants. I believe I portray realistic situations. I don't think there is anything in my book that is beyond belief.
Question: I'm Jewish and I love reading about Jewish stories. What made you decide to write about our religion?
Faye Kellerman: I'm Jewish and I've always had a love for and fascination with my customs and culture. There is much misinformation about the religion, and I guess I sort of wanted to right the wrong. Also, I think Judaism is a very philosophical religion that insists that humans take responsibility for their actions. I think that fits in nicely with the crime-and-punishment theme of most mysteries. I find my religion interesting, and I think most of my readers like the added bits of lore I put into my novels.
JainBN: Do you know of any other crime writers who delve into the issue of faith and personal responsibility the way you do?
Faye Kellerman: Harry Kemelman was, of course, the granddaddy of us all with his Rabbi Small series. But there are many, many writers who deal with religious characters and religious themes Catholic, Shaker, Amish, Elders in England, you name it. I read a lot of them because I'm interested in learning about other religions.
Question: Are there many -- or any -- autobiographical undertones to Rina?
Faye Kellerman: She is really a product of my imagination. But all my characters have bits and pieces of me in them. With Rina, it's her love of religion and her commitment to her family. With Decker, it's a passion for justice and an obsessive personality. I must admit that when I'm in the final throes of novel writing, I'm like a woman possessed.
Question: A few years ago, I read a short story where you used some characters created by your husband. Do you intend to do that again?
Faye Kellerman: I was just kind of funning with our common readers. The question I'm usually asked is if we intend to collaborate in the future. Of course, the answer is no -- I like being married. We collaborate on just about everything else in life. We keep our novels our own private domain.
Question: Ms. Kellerman, have you read Norman Mailer's new book? If so, what do think?
Faye Kellerman: I haven't read Mailer in quite a while. He has moments, but I think he could really benefit from some judicious editing. By the way, I didn't like his stab at mystery writing.
Question: I enjoy your work immensely, and I was impressed that you made Rina Shomer Negiah. I always did wonder why you had her rationalize that "away" with Peter, consummating their relationship before marriage by saying she planned on marrying only him....
Faye Kellerman: I've never put Rina up as a perfect human being. She has faults and she makes mistakes. She tries hard, but sometimes she doesn't succeed. She rationalizes because that's what guilty human beings do when they engage in behavior they feel is wrong. They rationalize.
Question: Many consider you to be among the "sisters in crime," teamed with Sue Grafton and Mary Higgins Clark. Do you read their books, and do you guys ever talk about writing together?
Faye Kellerman: What a lovely group to belong to! Thanks so much. I know Sue and I must say she is wittier and funnier and nicer and smarter than Kinsey could ever be. She was great to me when I was starting out. And I've always been a long time fan of Kinsey. To wit I have an original A IS FOR ALIBI. When I had Sue sign it, she asked where I bought it. I said I bought it when it came out years ago for the original cover price. Now, there was an investment. I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mary Higgins Clark. I hope to rectify that someday.
Question: How do you balance being a writer, mother, and woman of faith? I read that you keep a kosher kitchen and cook all of your family's meals. Is it difficult to manage?
Faye Kellerman: It is extremely difficult. Luckily, as I grow older, so do my children. I have four of them, ranging in age from five to 19. It's been a challenge, but it's also been great fun. Having a husband at home helps. Jonathan has always been my greatest booster. And I'm his biggest fan.
JainBN: Faye, thanks so much for joining us tonight. Be peaceful on the West Coast.
Faye Kellerman: It's really been a pleasure. And to all of you, thanks so much for the support.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was pretty good. It was interesting, the plot moved along quickly, and the ending was satisfying, if abrupt, but there were a few odd things. Whenever Kellerman inserts Cindy Decker into the mix, I feel the book is less enjoyable, but that might be my prejudice against that character. The other strange thing is the trickery the police use against teenagers, especially Cindy going undercover and Abel visiting Malcolm in prison. It's very unrealistic and, frankly, quite stupid. As to the plot: there's a horrific murder at a fancy restaurant and the shooter seems to kill himself at the scene, the police soon decide that there was a second shooter, and they quickly blame the violence on a wealthy seductress named Jeanine, who uses sex to manipulate young men. However, Jeanine claims that she is being harassed when the detectives speak to her, even stooping to accusing Decker of sexual harassment, and she goes on to set up her brother's murder to keep their entire inheritence while the police have their hands tied. After Decker's daughter Cindy goes undercover at a Scrabble tournament and meets a boy from the same prep school as Jeanine's newest boytoy and killing tool, the case is almost solved, and then one of Decker's old friends visits the killer in jail to reveal Jeanine's engagement to another man, so the kid confesses everything and Jeanine is arrested.
First book I have read by this author: She knows how to tell a tale and hold the reader¿s attention from page one on, and I fully intend to read more of her Decker/Lazarus series. However, there are three major problems with this particular book you should be aware of. One: a la TV¿s Columbo, there is no mystery as to who ¿done it.¿ Two: a la Stephen King, the ending is really, really weak, so weak in fact that on their way to arrest the murderer, Decker and his detectives agree that the accomplice was stupid to tell them how the perp did it. Finally, a la Louis L¿Amour at his worst, when the good guy gets the ¿bad guy¿ the story ends ¿immediately. I know this is a series but I really hate when that happens. After expending time (and money) getting to know a book¿s characters I really feel cheated when it¿s author does that to me.
This book is for the most part really interesting. There are several elements-the crime itself, the unanswered questions, pressure from the public and political pressure, and also personal enemity- at work to make the plot move along quickly.
This is the 10th in the Decker/Lazarus series. Love this series and this is one of the goods ones of the series.Back Cover Blurb:A busy night at an elegant restaurant. Minutes later a gunman opens fire. Thirteen people are dead, dozens wounded, the medics working frantically to save them. Your worst nightmare. But at least the culprit seems clear. An ex-employee ambled up to the bar then sprayed the room with bullets, finally turning the gun on himself. But Lieutenant Peter Decker, in charge of the investigation, needs to understand what drove the man to such a terrible act. And some details don't quite add up.Then when he interviews an attractive woman whose wealthy parents were killed in the massacre he finds himself suddenly slapped with a sexual harassment suit - an accusation that means an interview by the police complaints authority, exposing his wife Rina and their complex past relationship to their salacious scrutiny.....Somehow, he must discover the truth behind these horrible murders and bring to justice the well-connected woman he now believes to be a ruthless killer - without losing the career that, along with his family, is his life.....
A great read! I love the Peter and Rina Decker Seris !!!
Another Faye Kellerman classic. This one also leaves you wondering till the last page. Filled with suspense and unexpected turns. I just started the next in the series.
One of the better books in the Decker/Lazarus series. Plot is believable, the characters are nasty, and the conclusion is satisfying.