Serpent's Tooth (Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series #10)

( 19 )

Overview

A lone gunman walks into a trendy L.A. restaurant, and seconds later a terrifying mass murder transforms it into a slaughterhouse. Even Lieutenant Peter Decker, with over twenty years of law enforcement experience, is horrified at the sight of the dead and injured. Enough of the triggerman's face remains to identify him as former bartender and would-be actor Harlan Manz. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the papers paint Manz as a psycho and the families want closure on the case, but the obvious information about ...
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Serpent's Tooth (Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series #10)

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Overview

A lone gunman walks into a trendy L.A. restaurant, and seconds later a terrifying mass murder transforms it into a slaughterhouse. Even Lieutenant Peter Decker, with over twenty years of law enforcement experience, is horrified at the sight of the dead and injured. Enough of the triggerman's face remains to identify him as former bartender and would-be actor Harlan Manz. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the papers paint Manz as a psycho and the families want closure on the case, but the obvious information about Manz doesn't satisfy Peter Decker. Could there be another explanation? Another killer? As Decker relentlessly pursues the crime, he is thrust into the lurid world of moneyed Southern California, where everything can be bought.
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Editorial Reviews

People
Readers will be frantically flipping pages. .
San Francisco Examiner
One of the best in the series. . . .
Detroit News
Reading a good thriller is very much like taking a great vacation: half the fun is getting there. Faye Kellerman is one heck of a tour guide. .
S.E. Warwick
...[W]eaves the gritty reality of contemporary Los Angeles and the ancient covenants of Orthodox Judaism into a complex tale that is both entertaining and educational....Kellerman throws in just enough details from Decker’s home life to let us know that like anything else, being a homicide detective is a job, more demanding than many, but still a means to put bread on the table....[B]lends character and plot into a satisfying whole.
Mystery Magazine Online \ \ \
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Layering crisis upon crisis, Kellerman builds a page-turner in this 10th Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus novel, which, like previous titles in the series (most recently Prayers for the Dead), is based on a complex, carefully established network of relationships. A former employee of a ritzy restaurant opens fire there, killing 13 people and wounding dozens; then he commits suicide. Or so it seems, until LAPD Lieutenant Peter Decker and his team spot inconsistencies. Fatal bullets came from several directions; a single gunman could not have sprayed so many shots; and one murdered couple left an estate worth millions. Decker suspects their daughter, Jeanine Garrison, a beautiful but manipulative charity organizer with penchants for power and handsome young tennis players. He connects her with a suspected killer, but she pressures police brass to back off and then hits the detective with a bogus sexual harassment complaint. When a mysterious drug overdose kills her brother, Jeanine gets the entire inheritance. While Decker struggles with the murders (the grisly killings trigger Vietnam flashbacks) and departmental politics, his older daughter from his first marriage, Cindy, decides to become a cop. Decker is appalled, but Cindy's ambition could help crack the case. Decker's wife, Rina Lazarus, stands on the sidelines here, trying to smooth relations between their Orthodox Jewish household and Decker's adoptive Baptist family, until it's she who makes use of her husband's past to reveal the final piece of the puzzle. Lots of action, an intricate plot and credible, multi-dimensional characters make this another standout entry in an evolving series.
Library Journal
Kellerman's (Prayers for the Dead, LJ 8/96) popular L.A. detective duo here investigate a Southern California-style mass murder in a trendy restaurant.
S.E. Warwick
...[W]eaves the gritty reality of contemporary Los Angeles and the ancient covenants of Orthodox Judaism into a complex tale that is both entertaining and educational....Kellerman throws in just enough details from Decker’s home life to let us know that like anything else, being a homicide detective is a job, more demanding than many, but still a means to put bread on the table....[B]lends character and plot into a satisfying whole.
Mystery Magazine Online
Kirkus Reviews
Why would somebody walk into trendy Estelle's and spray the diners with gunfire, killing 13 of them and wounding 32? Even when the shooter's identified as Harlan Manz, disgruntled former Estelle's bartender, Lt. Peter Decker's not satisfied—especially when forensics start to paint a picture of a second gunman. And that means a plan; it probably means murder for hire, with the first gunman recast as the last victim. But when Decker's team, investigating the dead diners' links to Manz's former employer, the Greenvale Country Club, strike gold—Manz's sometime tennis partner, charity fund-raiser Jeanine Garrison, inherited millions when her parents were killed at Estelle's—the case blows up in their face: Manipulative Jeanine blows hot and cold when Decker questions her, then trumps up a harassment suit against him and succeeds in getting him lifted from the case. Doubly determined to nail her, Decker pulls out all the stops running down possible links between her and the second shooter. Meantime, his loyal wife Rina Lazarus and his daughter Cindy (who's already antagonized her father by announcing that she's been accepted at the Police Academy) huddle with their own freelance operatives to back up his hunch. Anybody care to place a bet on the battle between the Decker family and the oh-so-charming psychopath Jeanine?

Nail-biting detective work, though the results rather undermine the suspicions that put Decker on the culprit's scent in the first place. Midlevel Kellerman, not up to Prayers for the Dead (1996), but well ahead of her soapier Decker-Lazarus domestic dramas.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062087881
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/27/2012
  • Series: Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series , #10
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 310,043
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 7.36 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Faye  Kellerman

Faye Kellerman lives with her husband, New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman, in Los Angeles, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Biography

It's tempting to compare Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus to Dashiell Hammett's classic crime-solving couple, Nick and Nora Charles. But Faye Kellerman's duo, who debuted in 1983, bear more resemblance to her own husband-wife dynamic with fellow bestselling thriller author Jonathan Kellerman. Decker is an L.A. cop; wife Rina is an Orthodox Jewish mom who gets very involved in her husband's work. The series comes with a love story built in, since in the first title, Ritual Bath, Lazarus is a witness meeting Detective Decker for the first time. Over the next dozen-odd novels, the two fall in love, get married, have children and solve crimes along the way.

Kellerman, who was inspired by her husband to begin writing, is also the author of Moon Music, a contemporary thriller set in Las Vegas, and The Quality of Mercy, a historical novel of Elizabethan England. Fans needn't worry, however, that Kellerman is going to abandon the pair she is best known for. "I never tire of them," Kellerman says in an interview on her publisher's web site of Decker and Lazarus. "I like them very much, but to keep them fresh is the main reason why I have two 'outside-the-series' or 'stand alone' books. Once in a while you have to sit back and gain some perspective on these people that you are writing about year after year."

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    1. Hometown:
      Beverly Hills, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 31, 1952
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Louis, Missouri
    1. 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 Asians—something about making them potent.

Men—regardless of race, creed, or color—thought 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 exquisite—all 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 table—giant 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 sixteen—sans 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!

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 things—how 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.

Life changes.

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

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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

Nobody noticed him.

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 Asians--something about making them potent.

Men--regardless of race, creed, or color--thought 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 exquisite--all silver and crystal and candlelight. Antique mahogany buffets and chests rested against walls lined with elegant sky-blue Oriental silk screens. Exotic flower arrangements adorned every table--giant lilies, imported orchids, and two-tone roses. A hint of perfume, but never overwhelming. The chairs were not only upholstered in silky fabric but comfortable as well. Even the bar area was posh--plush stools, smoked mirrors, and rich walnut panels, all tastefully illuminated with Tivoli lights.

She felt as if she were dining in a palace, wondered why Princess Di divorced her meal ticket. So what if Prince Charles had someone on the side, wishing himself to be a Tampax up her you-know-where. (What a weirdo!) Wendy could have withstood the pain just so long as the Queen had kept those pounds and pence rolling in.

Transfixed by the splendid surroundings, so intent on doing her job--getting a fat and much-needed commission--Wendy didn't blink an eye when the young man with the green sport coat walked through the door, eyeing the room with coldness and calculation.

Neither did Linda or Ray Garrison.

At last, Ray was enjoying a little solitude with his wife of thirty-five years. Recalling the anniversary party that their daughter, Jeanine, had thrown for them even if she had thrown it with his money. At least it had gone well. Jeanine was one hell of an organizer. The guests had remarked what a wonderful party it was, what magnificent parents he and Linda must have been to have raised two such devoted children ... politely including David in the same category as Jeanine. No one had dared to hint at his son's recent jail term.

An elegant affair. But Ray knew it had been just as much for Jeanine as it had been for Linda and him. Lots of her "club" friends--people Ray barely knew--had come along for the ride.

Still, it had been fun. And David had behaved himself. At last, the boy finally seemed to be moving in the right direction, was using his God-given talents. Ray would have disinherited him years ago, but it had been Linda's soft heart that had kept the avenues of communication open.

Linda, Soft, beautiful, generous, and solid, his backbone for three and a half decades. At times, he was aware of the age in her face, the webbing around the corners of her eyes and mouth, the gentle drop of her jaw and cheeks. But Linda's imperfections, completely absent in her youth, only served to increase his desire for her.

He loved her with all his heart. And he knew that she returned the sentiment. At times, their closeness seemed to exclude everyone else, including their children. Maybe that was why David had grown up so resentful. But more than likely, their love for one another had nothing to do with their son's problems. Weak-willed and cursed with talent and charm, Dave had drifted into a Bohemian life at an early age.

But why think about that now? Ray reprimanded himself. Why think about Jeanine--her spending habits, her high-strung hysteria, and her fits of temper when she didn't get what she wanted? Why think about David's repeated stabs at rehab? Concentrate on the moment ... on your lovely wife.

Ray took his own advice and reserved his remaining attention for Linda. Although his eyes did sweep over the young, grave-faced man in the green jacket, holding a drink, they failed to take him in.

Even if Walter Skinner had noticed the odd man, he wouldn't give the punk the time of day. At this stage in his life, Walter had no patience for youngsters, no patience for anyone. He had worked in Hollywood for over fifty years, had earned himself a fat bank account and a modicum of recognition and respect. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it with no questions asked. If you didn't like it, you could take a long walk to China.

And what Walter wanted now was the young lady sitting across from him. A lovely lass with big, red hair, and long shapely legs that melded into a firm, round ass that sent his juices flowing.

Not here, Walter scolded himself. To calm himself down, he thought about Adelaide.

A good woman, a tolerant woman. Once she had been a beautiful woman, a Vegas dancer right after Bugsy had turned the desert sands into dunes of gold. Walter had chased her, pursued her relentlessly. Finally, she gave in. For her, it had paid off. As a minimally talented show girl, Adelaide had been destined for obscurity. Instead, she became a Hollywood wife. He gave her status. money, and a 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 good food. 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 sixteen--sans 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!

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 things--how 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 potential. The marriage just wouldn't work any longer.

Times change, he had told her.

Life changes.

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.

CHAPTER TWO

A microsecond flash of yesteryear as images too frighteningly clear burst from the hidden recesses of Decker's brain. A familiar scene with familiar sounds and smells. Charlie's discards. Twisted corpses. Moans of the wounded echoing through a gripping fog of panic. Medics worked frantically, hands and arms bathed in blood and flesh. The metallic odor of spilled blood mixed with the stink of emptied bowels. Surreal. The magnitude of death and destruction. It destroyed faith in a hand clap.

Decker swallowed, trying to lubricate a parched throat. Rationally, he knew Nam was over. So what was this? An instant replay? Except the surroundings were off. Confusion reigned. But only for a moment.

Because there was work to be done.

Instantly, he rolled up his jacket and shirt sleeves, gloved his hands. Saw a woman whose leg had been turned into Swiss cheese by dime-sized bullet holes. Lying in a pool of crimson. Her complexion pasty... clammy. Pushing aside debris with his foot, Decker made room for himself... knelt at her side.

Stop the bleeding, treat 'em for shock, get 'em to a chopper.

Scratch the chopper, make it an ambulance.

"You're going to be all right," Decker spoke soothingly as he worked. Perspiration had soaked through his jacket from his armpits. His crotch was as hot and humid as an Orlando summer Sweat was dripping off his hair, off his face and brow. He turned away from his patient, shook off the water like a drooling mastiff. He said, "Just hang in there."

Lots of bleeding, some of it arterial. Rhythmic squirts of bright red blood. Decker put pressure on the leaking area as the woman screamed, tears rolling down her cheeks.

He bit his upper lip, nibbling on his ginger mustache, trying to keep his own breathing slow and steady. He examined her torn tissue, working through bits of bone. Femoral artery appeared to be intact ... the other major arteries as well. Arteriole bleeding, probably from one of their branches. She didn't realize it, but she had been a very lucky pup. Much better than her male companion, who'd never again see the light of day.

"I need a blanket, STAT!" Decker shouted.

"We're out!" someone shouted back.

"Then get me a tablecloth, napkins ... something!" Decker screamed back. "I got shock settling in!"

"You and half the room! Get it yourself!"

"For Chrissakes--"

"Here!" A tiny female paramedic with green eyes threw Decker a tablecloth. She was bent over a bearded man, wrapping a bandage around his neck. Instantly, the starched white linen turned tomato-colored. Her eyes glanced at Decker, at his shoulder holster peeking out from under his jacket. "What ambulance company are you from?"

"LAPD. Lieutenant Peter Decker."

The paramedic raised her brows. "Celia Brown. Need anything, just ask."

"Thanks." Spreading out the tablecloth as best he could. Decker raised the woman's good leg, dabbing her forehead and face as she sobbed and spoke. She told him her name was Tess. She had heard popping noises. Then everyone had started screaming, running for cover. Her leg exploded as she dived under her table.

Taking mental notes.

The victim wore a thick gold chain around her neck; her purse was still at her side. A horrific crime but robbery didn't appear to be a motive. Or maybe the gunman just didn't bother with her. She wasn't decked in diamonds and pearls, not like some of the other patrons. She wore a loud print dress that appeared to be a couple of sizes too big for her body. She asked Decker if her leg was still there. She couldn't wiggle her toes. All she felt were throbs of agony.

"Your leg is there." Again Decker checked for bleeding. "You're doing great."

"My husband ..."

Decker was quiet.

"He's dead?"

Again there was silence.

"I want to know," Tess whispered.

Decker took a deep breath. "The dark-haired man wearing a blue serge suit?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. He's gone."

Tess said nothing, looked away with tears in her eyes.

"Just keep as still as you can." To the paramedic, Decker said, "Got any spare wound gel, topical, and bandage?"

Celia gave him some equipment. "You need a shot of coagulant?"

"Bleeding's subsided. Besides, I'd prefer if one of you administered the meds."

"Fine." Celia thought a moment, then said, "You're a lieutenant... as in a cop?"

"Yes."

"Calling in the big shots for this one."

Muted by the enormity of destruction, Decker couldn't make chitchat.

Celia said, "They must be training you guys pretty well in ER services."

"I was a medic in the army.

"Ah, now it makes sense. Vietnam?"

"Yes."

"Betcha had lots of experience."

Too much, Decker thought. He applied the salves, unfurled a roll of gauze. "She's going to need a neck brace and a hip and leg splint. Can you finish her up for me when you're done?"

"No problem. Thanks for helping. We need it."

They both worked quickly and quietly. When she was done with her man and his bloodied neck, she yelled out. "Gurney and transport."

Within seconds, she ungloved and regloved. Walked on her knees over to Decker's patient. "Unbelievable."

"Truly."

"I'll finish her up now."

"Thanks. Her name is Tess. She's doing great."

"Hey, Tess," the paramedic said. "We're taking good care of you."

Decker stood. A dozen doctors charged through the door, scattering themselves about where needed.

Trampling on evidence.

As if that were important at the moment. But down the line it would make his job harder. As yet, no one was in charge. Since there seemed to be enough medical staff, he figured he might as well take control. He called over some officers, flashed his badge.

"We need to secure the area. I want a fifty-yard radius around the place, two officers stationed at every entrance. No one will be allowed in, no one will be allowed out unless it's medical personel or Homicide detectives. And I mean no one. Not even survivors of this mayhem may leave until it's cleared with me. As hard as it will be, don't let in any family members. Be polite and sympathetic, but firm. Tell them I'll come out, speak to them, tell them what's going on. I'll inform them of ... of their loved ones' conditions just as soon as we make identifications. Certainly no one from the press corps will be permitted on the premises. If they start asking questions--which they will--tell them someone from the department will hold a conference later. Reporters who break the rules get arrested. Go."

From the middle of the restaurant, Decker surveyed the room--the disheveled tables, the knocked-over chairs, the pocked walls. and shattered window glass. Graceful wallpaper had been turned into Rorschachs of blood and food, gleaming parquet-wood floors were now deadly seas of spilled fluids, broken crystal, and pottery shards. His eyes scanned across the bar, the kitchen doors, the hallway leading to the rest rooms, the windows, and the front entrance. He took out a notebook, began dividing the area into grids. He heard someone call his name--or rather, his rank. He turned around, waved Oliver over.

"I think I'm going to throw up," the detective said.

Decker regarded him. Scott Oliver's naturally dark complexion had paled even through his six o'clock shadow; his normally wise-ass eyes were filled with dread.

"We've got to ID the dead." Decker ran a hand through sweat-soaked, pumpkin-colored hair. "Let's start a purse and pocket search." He showed Oliver his sketch. "I'll take the left side, you do the right. When the rest of the team comes in, we'll divide up the room accordingly."

"There's Marge." Oliver beckoned her near with frantic hand gestures. She arrived ashen and shaking, her shoulders hunched, taking a good inch off her five-foot-eight frame.

"This is horrible." She touched her mouth with trembling fingers, then pushed thin blond hair off her face. "What happened? Someone just started shooting?"

Oliver shrugged ignorance. "We're doing a pocket and purse search for ID of the dead. Loo, what about interviewing the survivors?"

Decker said, "Scott, you do the search. Marge, you start interviewing on Scott's side--Bert, over here!"

Martinez pivoted, jogged over to his team. "Mary Mother of God, I think I'm gonna be sick."

"Take a deep breath," Decker said. "Bathrooms are in the back."

Martinez covered his face with his hands, inhaled, then let it out slowly. "It's just the putrid smell. Actually, it's ... everything, God, I'm ..."

No one spoke.

Then Decker said, "Scott and Marge are working the right side. You work with me on the left."

"Doing what?" Martinez picked at the hairs of his thick black mustache.

"Interviewing the survivors or IDing the dead. Take your pick."

"I'll do the survivors," Martinez said. "Tom's on his way. You heard from Farrell?"

"Got hold of his wife. He's coming down."

"Think that's a good idea, Loo? Man's got a heart condition."

"Gaynor's survived close to thirty years on the force, he'll survive this. Besides, he's a wonder at detail work ... which is what we're going to need ... lots of detail work."

"And the captain?"

"He was at a meeting in Van Nuys when this went down. Should be here momentarily."

Decker started in the far left corner of the room, at a large round table for twelve. Two Asian men lay crumpled and unattended on the floor, spangled with bits of china and slivers of crystal. Loose flowers had fallen upon their torsos as if marking the grave site.

Decker did a once-over of the area. About fifty feet away sat a huddle of business-suited Asians males. Nearby were two Caucasians--one female and one male wrapped in blankets and bandages. He nodded to the woman, she nodded back. Her hands and face appeared cat-scratched, probably scored by flying glass. Decker shook off anxiety, gloved, and carefully kneeled down. He checked the bodies' pulses.

Nothing.

He went through one of the men's pants pockets. A portly man shot several times in the face and chest. He pulled out a wallet. Carefully, he wrote down the deceased's vitals from his driver's license.

Hidai Takamine from Encino. Black hair, brown eyes, married, and forty-six years old.

Decker winced. His own age.

He glanced up. Martinez hadn't moved, was looking down, staring at the bodies with vacant eyes.

Gently, Decker prodded him. "Get to work, Bert."

Martinez blinked rapidly. He said, "You in Nam, Loo?"

"Yep."

"So was I. Sixty-eight to seventy.

Decker said, "Sixty-nine to seventy-one."

Silence.

Martinez took a swipe at his eyes, then got to work.

*

By the time Strapp showed up, Decker had finished identifying the bodies on his side of the restaurant. The captain had given up the pretense of maintaining a calm demeanor. His thin features were screwed up in anger, his complexion wan. Decker brought him up to date as Strapp tapped his toes, his right hand balled into a fist that continuously pounded his left palm.

"Seven dead on my side." Decker rolled his massive shoulders, stretched his oversized legs as his kneecaps made popping sounds. The bending was doing wonders for his floating patellas. "I've identified the victims from driver's licenses. I'll go out and inform the next of kin just as soon as I get a body count and names from the other side."

He looked around, saw that Tom Webster and Farrell Gaynor had arrived. Tom was interviewing survivors along with Bert. Farrell was going through the pockets of the corpses on the right side as Marge and Scott attempted to calm the distraught.

Strapp shook his head, mumbled something.

"Sir?" Decker asked.

"Nothing," Strapp said. "Just cursing to myself. At last count, there's something like twenty-eight over at Valley Memorial's ER. This is just ... I've got a slew of shrinks outside for support groups ... some ER docs as well ... in case someone has a heart attack or faints when the news hits."

"Shall I do it now, Captain?"

Strapp was still hitting his palm with his fist. "We'll do the dirty work together."

"What about the press?"

"Okay, okay." Strapp started bouncing on his toes. "You handle the press, I stay with the family members. Keep the vultures behind the ropes. No announcements until I've finished dealing with the next of kin."

Decker said, "Here's a partial list of the dead. I'll bring you the completed list as soon as I can."

Both of them stalled for a moment; then they went their separate ways.

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

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....

Faye Kellerman:


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.


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2008

    Serpent's Tooth (Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series #10)

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2008

    Still worth it!

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2008

    Serpent's Tooth (Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus Series #10)

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 22, 2012

    Great Read. Couldn't put the book down.

    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.

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  • Posted February 10, 2011

    One of the better in this series

    One of the better books in the Decker/Lazarus series. Plot is believable, the characters are nasty, and the conclusion is satisfying.

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