KELLERMAN'S 'STREET DREAMS' LIMNS THEMES OF FAITH AND RACE
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Book Critic
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Set on the seamy side of Hollywood, Faye Kellerman's latest mysery, 'Street Dreams," is an unusual vehicle for themes of Jewish orthodoxy and interracial marriage seasoned by an interesting mysteries solved and unsolved.
Cindy Decker is an L.A.P.D. patrol officer from a fairly conservative family, Her father is "the Loo," Lt. Ed Decker, married to his second wife, Rina, who has thoroughly adopted Cindy as her own (Cindy's real mom is alive and mentioned but not a presence).
For Jewish readers, this book will undoubtedly resonate against the traditional walls of culture and community, and most of the echoes will be quite pleasant. For non-Jewish fans of Kellerman, the excitement lies in the several intertwined crimes that Cindy sets out to solve with the reluctant help of her father and homicide detectives who know him and sometimes resent her.
The interesting complication is ther love interest. Cindy meets an African doctor, Koby, who is from that small tribe of Ethiopian Jews once known as the Lost Tribe of Israel. While Cindy's stepmother and her father are portrayed as generally accepting the black-and-white relationship, L.A.P.D. officers are portrayed less kindly. That part of the casting is a bit stereotypical and probably counter to real life, in which LAPD officers tend to be far less insular than the people they police.
As a former Hollywood crimefighter, I was a little taken aback by the details; the Hollywood L.A.P.D station is a much different animal than the book describes, but the gangsters are well-chosen.
As for the initial crime, my neighbors once found an abandoned baby in their Dumpster; it was dead, however. We named him Angel, organized a funeral Mass and buried it at Holy Cross cemetery in a gravesite that was donated by the cemetery.
The development of these themes rather substantially slows down the book, and non-Jewish readers may feel like they are being indoctrinated more than entertained. A lot of the book is concerned with crimes that took place during or just before the Holocaust involving Lt. Decker's mother, who is never convincingly portrayed even as her personal history is examined in detail.
We miss meeting the grandmother as human being while becoming intimate with the her as victim of her mother's murder. But while the murder that Rina enlists her husband to help her solve never is, we do see a convincing flash of humanity when Rina's aged mother meets with German friends from those dark days now living in Solvang, a Danish-themed resort town in the Santa Ynez mountains on California's Central Coast.
And the book doesn't otherwise lack for humanity, because the central crime - the abandonment of a baby in a Dumpster, traced back to a retarded mother and father who were raped and beaten by Latino gangsters and their gringo friends (no Jewish criminals need apply for roles in this drama) - and the difficult but ultimately successful love affair between Koby and Cindy have many illuminating moments that tap the author's sense of compassion and concern.
Frankly, while the book is a rather awkward read and I put it down many times, at least I did finish it. Part of the time I enjoyed learning a little about the household lives of observant Jews, which are ultimately not very interesrting, and I was very taken with the travails of Koby, Cindy's love interest. This book was published in August 2003, shortly after Koby Bryant's problems arose, so the name is dissonant now. Anyway, his real name Yaakov Kutiel, and he is a Kutie, at least as far as Cindy is concerned.
So is their "meet," which takes place when Cindy takes the baby she's just discobered while on patrol to Mid-City Hospital, where her lover-to-be is a male nurse in critical care neonatology. Tall and handsome, she is instantly attracted to him. He is also black, and she can tell by his name tag that he may be Jewish, apparently a requirement of her father and stepmother.
Once they are over the religious issue, they begin to encounter the racial barriers. A former boyfriend who is a homicide detective doesn't like Koby at all and still wants Cindy back; another officer refers to her love interest by asking, "Does the Loo know you're eating chocolate cake?"
The repartee all around may be uncharacteristically genteel, but the story of their relationship is beautifully developed. As her accomplice, Koby helps solve the puzzle of the baby's abandonment and then becomes a target in a drive-by and a car chase. At one point he has no choice but to fire a gun at a pursuing vehicle that has tried to run them down, and then Cindy and her father have to cover up the fact when the discharge of a weapon is investigated by Internal Affairs. It's all rather weird and counter-intuitive, but it works.
The most compelling part of the novel is the slow elaboration of details surrounding the abandonment of the baby, and then of the rape and beating of the unmarried and retarded parents. It is a tricky process to coax embarrassing details out of a retarded person - one has become homeless somewhere in Los Angeles - and to penetrate the barriers thrown up by privacy laws, the pedestrian bureaucracy of a home for the retarded and the family lawyer of one of the parents, who turns out to be pleasantly rich.
Yet, even when most of the strings are followed to their resolution - something that's rather skillfully done, given the plot complications - one is left with the question of why this book was written. It's less a mystery than a love story, and less an exposition of Jewish life than a seminar on the same. I resented much of the exposition, much enjoyed the romance, was satisfied by the mystery and its solution, but finally left wondering if the author's reputation has been oversold.
Joe Shea is Editor of The American Reporter Book Review. Visit him at http://www.american-reporter.com.