The Barnes & Noble Review
A lot of reviewers have noted lately that too many bestselling writers are writing the same book over and over again. Nobody is ever going to accuse Faye Kellerman of that. Not after this book.
Her new novel Moon Music is not only the best book she's ever written, it's also one of this year's most unique and riveting reads, a mystery that contains elements of horror, metaphysics, and Native American culture.
The novel is way too complex to outline coherently, so let's just say that while it starts out not unlike a police procedural, involving the murder of a mutilated Las Vegas prostitute, it is filled with the faint, echoing cries of a shadowy netherworld that Kellerman makes perfectly believable. That netherworld, Kellerman is saying, is there for all of us to see if we just know how to look. She finds evidence of it in some mighty strange and disturbing places, for the murdered woman leads detective Romulus Poe to learn that she was once the mistress of one of his colleagues, and the killing also seems to have some bearing on a much older murder. Complicating things is Poe's relationship with his police colleague's wife she and Poe were once lovers. Thus, there are two powerful story lines operating here the police investigation through seedy Las Vegas, and Poe's look back at his own troubled life. Kellerman dovetails these plotlines skillfully.
The setup reminds me a bit of Richard Matheson's brilliant Las Vegas vampire story The Night Stalker, the Vegas atmosphere, with its sociological climate, offering the author a perfect opportunity tomixdrama with sly humor. Her detective Poe has a unique take on his city. And on himself. Kellerman is a master of the sly aside, and she's never been nimbler:
Poe watched as she bounced toward the office. His groin was still fixated on her ass. But his mind was elsewhere thinking about the claws of a possessed woman, a howling coyote with doleful eyes, and a rattler with a bite as painful of rejection.
Poe, as the last image implies, can tell you a whole lot about rejection, especially in his love life, which Kellerman fleshes out with glum, rueful details. A disco dandy he ain't. Nor a white knight. He's a more believable cop (he has his good-cop days, his bad-cop days) than we've seen in a long time, even in books written by cops.
Kellerman's voice as a social commentator and urban historian has never been stronger, nor her writing more exemplary. She makes the city a true (and truly menacing) character. Science and sociology can explain away some of the menace but not all of it. It's one of the best Vegas books I've ever read. She also does something daring and spectacular with the various aspects of the investigation, the mysticism and the folk legends particularly. Instead of using them as simple window dressing, and explaining them away in scholarly terms, she turns them into urban legend they seem fresh, raw, modern, inexorably bound up with the history of Las Vegas itself. These moments are dark and scary indeed. She really knows how to handle all this new material.
While some readers will no doubt miss Kellerman's regular crew, they will be genuinely rewarded by this dark, evocative, strange, and yet utterly believable novel. Faye Kellerman rolled the dice on this one and won big.
Read an Excerpt
Ignoring the subtle vibrations under his pillow because he was just too damn comfortable. Warm and sated, inhaling the rich sensuality of musky sex. With force, Jensen opened a rebellious lid, his vision assaulted by the Strip's strobic neon. Outside the winds moaned, pushing everything in their paths. Grit crackled against the picture window as his eyes swept over the vista. A panoply of garish colors nonexistent in nature.
Looking away from the glass, back down at his covers. Beside him, Gretchen sleptyoung and littlebeads of sweat lining the crack of her small, round ass. He wanted to take a bite out of it. His breathing became pronounced, audible.
Then his pager went off again.
Jensen swore to himself, then, with resignation, lifted his head from the pillow. He'd never realized how much a cranium could weigh. Digging his palms into the mattress, he hoisted his large frame forward until he was sitting. He tried to make out the number in the dark, but gave up and flicked on the light.
"Hmmm," she grunted. "Turn it off."
"In a minute."
"What time is it?"
Jensen's heart jumped as he read the number. Rom's mobile phone. How long had he been beeping in?
"One-thirty," he snapped back.
"One-thirty?" She was whining now. "C' mon, baby. Bebe says we got the room until three. Turn off the light."
Jensen already had his pants on. "I've got to go."
"But it's so nasty outside."
"Nasty" was an understatement. The wind was howling dust and sand. Jensen slipped on his shirt and socks and tiedhis size eleven shoes. Brought up the hotel's outside line and punched in Rom's numbers. Static over the wires like lightning. Still he could make out a terse "Poe."
"Lemme go inside my car. If we get disconnected, call me back."
The line managed to keep as whooshing sounds, like tidal waves, came through the receiver. Jensen knotted his tie, then stroked Gretchen's ass. She purred, then rolled over and made a little snoring noise. Just as well. No sense starting what couldn't be finished. He heard the pop of the car door closing, the gusts die down. "What's up?"
"You turn your pager off, Stephen?"
"Why? How many times did you beep me?"
"Half a dozen."
Jensen knew Poe was exaggerating. "Must have slept through it."
Not a total lie, but one Poe wasn't about to buy. "You know, I almost broke down and called your house."
Jensen's heart started hammering. For once, he paused before speaking. Rom had said "almost."
As if Alison didn't know. Yet she chose to play dumb. After fifteen years of marriage, he still hadn't figured her out. In the early years, she had kept him at arm's length. He had put it down to her youthful shyness . . . their difference in age. Later on, her mental state made her impenetrable, her mind blocked by a steel-trap door of undiagnosed illness.
Jensen was all professional now. "What's going down, Rom?"
"Single desert dump off West Charleston."
"In Red Rock?"
"Before." Poe gave directions. "And, in answer to your unasked questionhow someone came upon the body by happenstance at this time of night and in this weatherno, it doesn't make any sense. The call came through a public phone outside Big Top." A beat. "Where are you, by the way?"
"Big Top." Pause. "Want me to go downstairs and check it out?"
"You have a print kit on you, Steve?"
"I meant to guard the phone." Jensen's voice rose a notch. "You got a problem with me tonight, Rom?"
I've got a problem with you every night, Stevie. Instead, Poe said, "I've already sent someone down to dust. But sure, go down and take a peek if you think it'll do some good." A hesitation. "I've got to get back, watch the corpse to make sure the sand doesn't totally bury it before the ME gets here."
"Stiff a male or female?"
"Female. One of her breasts was partially exposed. I can't tell if her entire body is nude, because the rest of her is coated with sand. I couldn't find a purse or any ID. Useless to search now. Tomorrow we'll go on a treasure hunt to look for things tossed and blown."
"You, me . . . probably Patricia." Poe swiped limp, dark hair from his black eyes, stared out the windshield of the Honda. Darker than syrup and about as thick. Even the moon was having trouble breaking through. "After you check out the phone booth, get down here. And bring some light. The grit is so thick I can barely make out my shadow."
Over the line, Jensen said, "Why don't you hammer down a stake and go home?" A pause. "Body'll keep till morning."
Poe could picture Steve's flip smile as he caressed the backside of his latest mistress. What was her name again?
Greta? Something like that. "I'm hanging up."
And he did.
To prevent hair from blowing into his eyes, Poe had attempted a ponytail. But the lank tresses were too short and kept coming loose, tickling his eyes, making them red and irritated. He blinked repeatedly, wishing he had brought his protective goggles. His disposable face mask did little to cut the sting of the grit. He snapped his fingers through gloves, then caught himself and dropped his hands at his sides. A makeshift tent had been erected around the stiff, an attempt to give it and the pathologist some protection. Inside, flashlight beams shimmied in strobic fashion. Jensen was standing a few feet away, hands tucked into his pockets, coat collar turned up. Poe sensed the burn from the big man's suspicious eyes. Jensen was ten years older than he, a good six inches taller, outweighed him by fifty pounds of muscle. But circumstances had dictated that professionally the younger would rule the elder.