cover image The Ritual Bath

The Ritual Bath

Faye Kellerman. Arbor House, $14.95 (282pp) ISBN 978-0-87795-771-3

Baptist big cop Peter Decker is reduced to jelly by tiny Jewish jewel Rina Lazarus, mistress of a ritual bathhouse in Los Angeles, on whose grounds a rape, which Decker is investigating, has just taken place. When she's not scrubbing out the mikvah, Rina, widowed mother of two sons, teaches math at the yeshiva, where several of those suspected of the rape and later of a particularly hideous murder either teach or study the Torah. Despite detective Decker's instant bedazzlement, however, Rina's orthodox charms and pious invocations to the deity are pretty subfusc; the entire cast is so jejune that the reader doesn't give a rap whodunit. Thus, the principle of the murder mystery genre is violated, the more seriously by the author's ambiguity as to whether she is writing a romance, a homily on the practices and virtues of observant Judaism or a detective novel. (May 30)