THE RITUAL BATH by Faye Kellerman


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Kellerman's first novel features rape and murder at a California yeshiva--but the emphasis here is less on the mystery (a weak one) than on the portrait of Orthodox Judaism (Misnagid division), with somewhat heavy-footed treatment of an impossible Jew/Gentile romance. Outside the mikvah (ritual bath) at isolated Yeshiva Ohavei Torah, a woman is raped--and lonely Glendale cop Peter Decker arrives in ""Jew-town"" to investigate, immediately falling for young widow Rina Lazarus, who teaches at the yeshiva and runs the mikvah. (He's divorced, with a Jewish--but not that Jewish--ex-wife.) Rina, relatively un-priggish but devout, repels all of Decker's advances--and is angered when he focuses his sleuthing on yeshiva staff members and scholars (including a mentally ill handyman and a scholar with a highly shady past). Tensions escalate further when the mikvah's new security guard, a likable black giantess, is savagely murdered; Rina refuses to give up her role at the mikvah, even though it seems that she is the rapist's next intended victim. And, in clichÉd gothic style, the action leads up to the night when Rina, trapped in the mikvah, barely escapes from the villain--thanks to a nick-of-time appearance by Decker. The solutions to the crimes here involve some strained psychopathology--and no surprises whatsoever. The resolution to the Rina/Decker romance features a painfully corny revelation. And Kellerman's narration throughout lapses into labored sentimentality and overwrought verbiage. (""She clung to Peter tightly, fearful of letting go lest she fall off her psychic precipice."") Still, those curious about the Orthodox/yeshiva milieu--which is largely, if not completely, convincing in Kellerman's earnest rendition--will find this a serviceable blend of soap opera and melodrama.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1986
Publisher: Arbor House