Mystery writer Faye Kellerman has been good friends with fellow Los Angeles-residents Rina Lazarus and Peter Decker for nearly 25 years. Kellerman, a New York Times-bestselling author, recently told me in an interview, “They are close friends or even like relatives. We’ve experienced so much together and we know so much about each other.”
The only catch? Rina and Peter are fictional characters from Kellermanâ€™s acclaimed murder mystery series.
“Every character you write is part of you. But they are unique people,” she said. “They have a life of their own. They talk to me.”
Kellerman’s books are often characterized as Jewish. Lazarus and Decker are an observant Jewish couple. Well at least now they are. In the first book, The Ritual Bath, Lieutenant Decker, raised as a Southern Baptist, discovers that he actually is Jewish during a rape investigation at the mikvah where Lazarus was the attendant. It wasn’t long before they fell in love and were married in the third of the series, Milk and Honey.
Now, in their 18th novel, the couple is involved in a murder case. Blindman’s Bluff (released August 11, 2009 by William Morrow) features the high profile murder of Guy and Gilliam Kaffery, a wealthy couple. As the clues come in, it becomes clear that the story is all about family. From the sibling rivalry in the Kaffery family to a crew of dangerous cousins who serve as security guards, family loyalty and betrayal turn out to be key for Decker in solving the case.
Like the other Decker/Lazarus novels, Blindman’s Bluff keeps a fast pace. The author says herself, “I like it because it moves in all sorts of unexpected directions.”
Even with murder and mayhem taking over his personal and professional life in Blindmanâ€™s Bluff, Decker briefly shows his softer side, struggling as his last child prepares to graduate high school and leave the nest. But the reader never learns what’s behind his worries.
I asked Kellerman what else we don’t know about the couple’s lives. “They definitely have their own private lives going on. There’s a lot more humor and passion than we can display in the novels,” she said. “There is a lot more conflict. There are the little things they each say and do. They know to push each other’s buttons.” And don’t think it’s all business. “It’s the strong sexual passion and humor that keep them going.”
The Decker-Lazarus relationship isn’t the only one on display for Kellerman this summer. Last month, Prism (HarperCollins), her first book co-written with her 16-year-old daughter, Aliza Kellerman, hit the shelves.
Actually, the book was mostly written by Aliza, with whom I also spoke. “I would come home every day after school and write 1-5 pages, and more on Sundays,” she said. “Every 50 pages or so, I would email it to my mother to edit.”
The idea to collaborate came from Faye’s editor, who knew that Aliza was also a writer. (Faye’s husband Jonathan is also a bestselling thriller writer, and their oldest son Jesse is a published novelist.) But Faye agreed to do it on condition that Aliza did most of the work. “It was the easiest book I’ve ever written because I didn’t write it,” Faye said. “Part of the deal was I told Aliza, ‘You really have to pick up the slack. I will edit for you. I will get you out of tight spots or fix prose. But you have to write the lines.”
In the sci-fi teen thriller, which took Aliza about a year to write, a group of high school students fall into a cave and end up in a parallel universe after a car accident during a field trip. Life seems the same in this new world, except that there is no concept of healing. Sickness always leads to death. By the end of the novel, concepts such as basic human compassion and the role of the government in private lives are turned inside out and right again.
But don’t expect anything too Jewish from Aliza’s writings. “My mother writes with Jewish themes. You write from what you know,” she said. “It would be very easy for me to write about Judaism. But it doesn’t particularly get my head spinning. There’s definitely a chance for Jewish characters, but Jewish themes aren’t my style.”
Even as a high school junior, Aliza has an expanding interest in writing, including novels, short stories, poetry, and even cartooning. And judging by Blindmanâ€™s Bluff and Prism, there’s no doubt we’ll continue to see these two women’s names on the covers of many more books.