An unwelcome discovery Rina Lazarus makes on a woodsy trail begins what feels like an endless new investigation for her husband, Greenbury Police Detective Peter Decker (The Theory of Death, 2015, etc.).
The skeletal hand Rina steps on has clearly been buried, not entirely successfully, for years, and the first challenge for the little Greenbury force is to figure out who the victim was and which of the fictitious Five Colleges she came from. The initial assumption that the corpse is female turns out to be only half-right, or both right and wrong: it’s Lawrence Pettigrew, who dropped out of Morse McKinley seven years ago for the gender reassignment surgery that would make her Lorraine. Pettigrew’s ambiguous gender status—she identified as female and took female hormones but never went through with the last surgical procedure that would have completed her transition—is only the first of several intriguing matters Kellerman raises but doesn’t resolve. Instead, the case circles back to the past when another corpse is improbably discovered 100 yards away: that of Delilah Occum, who vanished from Clarion College three years ago. It’s a good thing Rina can use her contacts at Hillel to supply Decker and his very junior partner, Harvard Law student Tyler McAdams, with a list of students who’ve gone missing from the Five Colleges over the years, because there’s no sign that the murders are over, and everyone in the area, from charismatic professors to drug suppliers to horny boyfriends, seems to be involved. The wide net Decker is forced to cast leads to false starts, dead ends, and eventually multiple arrests and several far more satisfying hours of sweating the perps in interrogation rooms just in time for Rina to turn away from her much-remarked handguns (are you listening, Anton Chekhov?) and start cooking for Rosh Hashana.
A low-concept small-town procedural that delivers more authenticity than suspense, with so many forgettable suspects, witnesses, and potential victims that you’ll need a grade book to keep them straight.