Several years ago, when I was working at the library, I was browsing the stacks looking for something to read and happened upon Faye Kellerman’s book The Ritual Bath. The jacket blurb looked interesting, so I checked it out.
And then, of course, I had to go find all the other books in the Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series and read them, too, in chronological order. Needless to say, I was hooked.
The books embody a lot of my literary favorites–interesting, real characters who develop and grow over time, intriguing stories, and, of course, excellent writing. The fact that Rina, the heroine, is a devoutly religious Orthodox Jew just added an extra bit of literary spice to the story. I’d read Harry Kemelman’s “Rabbi” series of books, and had begun to understand a bit about Orthodox Judaism (OK, Rabbi Small was officially a Conservative rabbi, but he and his family were Orthodox). Or at least as much as an interested heathen could understand.
Interestingly enough, though, when I have recommended the Kellerman books to friends, whether they like the series or not seems to depend more on their religion than anything else. Almost invariably, the more evangelical-Christian the friend, the less they like the books. And the comments boil down to the fact that they find the religion in the books too obtrusive.
And yet, if the protagonists had been evangelical Christians and every religious element was so familiar as to fade into the background like the sound of a ticking clock, I doubt my friends would have thought of the books as “religious” at all.
We all tend to let the familiar slide into the background noise without much notice. I grew up in a segregated Southern city where the “colored entrance” and segregated balcony in the movie theater was just the way things were. That didn’t impinge on my consciousness at all until after we’d long since moved away. So I’m well aware of how this works.
But still… why should the inclusion of religious elements make religious people uneasy? Isn’t it, as they so often tell me, all the same God?
And now I’m reading Faye Kellerman’s latest book, The Burnt House, and enjoying every minute, and feeling sorry for my friends who are missing out on these books.
Edited to add: In the end, though, I was disappointed in the book overall. The elements that make a Decker / Lazarus story unique were just kind of haphazardly used as filler. The story was good, the writing was good, the proofreading sucked big time. If Kellerman had started out with this book I suspect it would have been a tough sell.
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