The ads are out, touting Faye Kellerman's recent offering, Street Dreams: "She's got a way with murder!" I would offer a caveat: she had a way with murder. But Kellerman seems to be suffering from the James Patterson Syndrome: "quickie" reads with bare-bones plots that show no sign of Kellerman's growth as a suspense writer, another mundane and often boring attempt to meet publishers' demands. Recalling Faye Kellerman's earlier works, when she put creative energy into building strong characters and interesting themes for her Peter/Rina Decker series, with Rina as the wife of a police lieutenant who lives a rich religious heritage, this book is a disappointment.
A slow starter, Street Dreams begins with the abandonment of a newborn infant discovered behind a restaurant by Cindy Decker while on routine patrol. A second-year veteran of the LAPD, Cindy is Peter Decker's daughter from his first marriage. Cindy makes it her mission to find the baby's mother, a developmentally disabled young woman, but Cindy is warned by her imposing father to go through appropriate channels with the detectives assigned to the case if she ever hopes to move up in the ranks to detective. When Cindy locates and interviews the young woman, the girl tells of a mixed-race gang rape at a local park where she had secret trysts with her boyfriend, also disabled.
Then, in true Kellerman fashion, Rina Decker throws in a little mystery of her own, requesting Peter Decker's assistance in interpreting documents about the murder of Rina's grandmother in pre-Nazi Germany. This subplot allows Kellerman to insert the usual religious information that is present in every Peter/Rina Decker book, replete with Jewish phrases and explanations of particular rituals. In the first few mysteries, this religious backdrop was welcome and interesting, as it defines Rina's personality, personal religious dedication and her evolving relationship with her convert-husband, adding yet another dimension to these mysteries. But now Kellerman uses such themes to flesh out an already weak story.
In the course of her investigation, Cindy meets and falls in love with a male nurse, who happens to be black, an Ethiopian Jew acceptable to her father's new family because of his religious beliefs. This is the perfect man for Cindy; he is compassionate, well-built, sexy and strong-minded enough to stand up to her father, once Decker recovers from the shock of the boyfriend's race. On a personal level, I found the treatment of Cindy's budding romance to be exploitative and shockingly ignorant of the subtleties involved in mixed-race relationships. Replete with racist remarks and ignorant questions from fellow officers (another obvious stereotype) regarding her physical relationship with a black man, Kellerman unnecessarily panders to common curiosity and ignorance. I can deal with a mediocre mystery, but it is offensive when an author is so desperate for "spice" that she uses sex and race instead of good writing.
The energy expended on superficial distractions might have been better used by this author in constructing a believable plot, especially since Kellerman does have the talent to write a cogent mystery. It seems that Kellerman can't see the forest for the trees.