In the latest installment of Faye Kellerman’s mystery series, Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus, an Orthodox couple, have been living in the quiet upstate New York town of Greenbury for a year. Most of the police activity there involves dealing with the antics of college students or helping elderly citizens who cannot find their cars. Decker enjoys the slow pace, but occasionally misses the busy Los Angeles department that he left. Things pick up when his captain, Mike Radar, calls him to investigate the death of a nude man found deep in the woods. It appears to be a suicide, but the death is suspicious, so Decker begins looking for answers.
The department is small, and he is happy when his former coworker, Tyler McAdams, who is now a first-year law student at Harvard, calls to ask if he can come stay with him while studying for finals. Of course the case intrigues Tyler, and he ignores his studies to assist Decker. It turns out that the victim was also a student: Eli Wolf, a brilliant math student at Kneed Loft College. When a young professor also turns up dead, the detectives begin to wonder if the cases are related.
The investigation reveals the intense competition among both students and faculty eager to make their marks in academia. Kellerman brilliantly evokes characters who guard their work zealously and think nothing of poaching research to get ahead. The two cases require the detectives to learn about theoretical mathematics as well as academic rivalry. Rina and Peter’s interaction with Eli Wolf’s Mennonite family adds another interesting element to the story. As both families are observant and traditional, they understand and respect one another.
Readers will enjoy the complex and suspenseful plot as well as the human relationships. The Theory of Death is a good choice for public library mystery collections as well as synagogue libraries with fiction collections. Book clubs that read mysteries will have interesting ethical issues to discuss as well.