Now out in paperback, BLINDMAN’S BLUFF is another entry in Faye Kellerman’s long-running series of crime thrillers featuring LAPD Homicide Detective Peter Decker and his wife, Rina Lazarus. Like most of its predecessors, it’s a finely constructed and suspenseful combination of police investigation and family life.
Decker is awakened before dawn by a phone calling alerting him of a murder in the northern section of his West Valley jurisdiction. The scene is the sprawling but seemingly well-fortified Coyote Ranch, home of the wealthy developer Guy Kafffey and his family. Kaffey and his wife were shot dead, along with four of his employees. But one of Kaffey’s sons survived the attack and is rushed to the hospital.
All evidence indicates that the break-in and shootings were an inside job. Kaffey often hired reformed criminals, including former gang members, to work on his security staff — a tendency that promoted his reputation as either a kind-hearted philanthropist or a cheapskate. Digging deeper, Decker and his investigative team discover that was also a history of serious arguments and disagreements over money that sometimes divided the Kaffey clan, so the murders might have been for revenge or caused by a debated inheritance.
In the meantime, Rina has decided to fulfill her civic duty and respond to a summons for jury duty. Not long after arriving at the courthouse, she and her follow jurors note a well-dressed man wearing sunglasses and a “Tom Cruise smile” hanging out in the halls and courtrooms. He turns out to be a professional court translator; the sunglasses are not merely an affectation, but due to his being blind.
One afternoon, the translator overhears a couple of men discussing in Spanish some inside details about the Kaffey murders. The translator seeks help in discovering who the men might be by asking a woman to describe them — and the woman he approaches happened to be Rina.
Thus, she becomes unwittingly involved in the same murder investigation as her husband. As that deepens, and more threats are made on the surviving Kaffey family members, Decker soon finds his wife’s life is in danger as well.
The details of the investigation, taking in both the Kaffey family and the lives of his hired hands, are inventive and complex. In following various leads, Decker and his crew travel almost the entire state of California and parts of Mexico, too.
Anchoring this, as is the case in most Decker/Lazarus stories — and perhaps the most distinctive trait of the series — is the couple’s Conservative Jewish faith. Throughout, there are references to the kosher dietary laws, Sabbath rituals, the local synagogue and other similar observances (including the other investigators referring to Decker as “Rabbi,” even to his face). Yet, over the many years, Kellerman has managed to seamlessly weave these references into the story, so they become as commonplace to the narrative as they are in the lives of the characters.
Also impressive is the way the author pulls Rina into the apparently unrelated details of her husband’s murder case. At times, however, the complicated family history of several suspects works against the otherwise efficient and smooth-flowing pace of the story. Once past such details, BLUFF races to its somewhat surprising conclusion.
Chronology is by no means a requirement in the Decker/Lazarus series, so those who have not yet enjoyed these reliable and entertaining novels would do well to pick up this paperback edition either while contemplating or along with the latest series addition, HANGMAN. —Alan Cranis