(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Peter Decker comes home from a day’s work with the homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department to find his wife Rina Lazarus pale and upset with the news that one of the members of their extended family in New York City has been murdered and that the fifteen-year-old niece who was with him is missing. Reluctantly, Decker phones his half-brother Jonathan, who had called Rina with the news, reluctant because he already suspects Jonathan will want him to perform miracles and solve these problems. He is right. Within hours, Peter, Rina, and their nine-year old daughter Hannah are on the early morning flight to New York.

The murder victim was Ephraim Lieber, brother of Jonathan’s wife Raisie. He had been shot in the head, execution style, with a .32-caliber hollow point bullet the previous afternoon. His body was found naked on the floor in a shoddy Manhattan hotel room. Ephraim’s niece Shaynda, daughter of his brother Chaim Lieber, had supposedly been with him in the hotel that afternoon. No one knows exactly why Ephraim and Shaynda had been spending time together, especially since in the strict Jewish sect to which they belonged a girl is not allowed to be alone with a man other than her father. Ephraim had recently been working in the electronics store owned by Chaim and their father, but he also had a long history as a cocaine addict and had been arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer. Now the police are asking a lot of questions. The family feels as though they are being accused. Peter advises Jonathan to seek counsel from a lawyer. Jonathan hires the self-defined modern Orthodox Jewish criminal lawyer Leon Hershfield, whose highest profile case was getting an acquittal for mobster Joseph “Joey” Donnati, on trial for three counts of murder. Hershfield listens to Jonathan and Decker and agrees to represent their interests, but only on the condition that the family members cooperate with him and tell him the truth.

Decker finds that Hershfield’s insinuation about family deception is accurate when he himself tries to ask questions and get honest answers from the family and several virtually closed Jewish communities. The extended family represents several variations of religious belief and practice, from Chaim’s strict Hasidic views and black-hat attire, to Jonathan’s Conservative stance, to the Orthodox practices of Peter and Rina. These varying categories of Jewish faith are likewise present in the neighborhoods, and the separate religious communities tend to be wary of the others and defensive in speaking with police or outsiders. To make matters worse, Decker later learns that Hershfield has told the family not to talk with Decker about the case.

The policeman whom Decker contacts in New York City’s 28th Precinct, Michael Novak, refers to himself as the resident Jewish detective, who is asked to handle all cases involving Jewish criminals or victims. He is somewhat cooperative, since he wants Decker to share any information he may have, but he is also clear about who is in charge. Decker has far less success when he contacts Virgil Merrin, the chief of police in Quinton, the small upstate New York town where Chaim lives. Quinton is a very divided town, half upscale ex-urbanites and half nonaffluent Hasidic Jews who do not believe in secular education for their children. Merrin is a fat white man who grew up in the South and does not fit in with either the affluent residents or the Jewish population. He does not at all appreciate having a police lieutenant from Los Angeles coming to his office asking questions. The connection becomes even more strained when Merrin knows that Decker has seen him drunk in a local topless bar.

The case begins to take on more action when Michael Novak introduces Decker to a vice squad policeman who covers the pimp and prostitution scene. He reports that the killing seems to be the style of C. D., a man well known as a mob-connected loner who publishes glossy pornographic magazines featuring...

(The entire section is 1630 words.)