This mystery takes place in a remote yeshiva in California,. A yeshiva is a high school and college of Jewish studies for boys. This particular yeshiva is located on a large private property and contains a number of small cottages for the students and faculty. The women in this yeshiva are the wives of the rabbis or wives of a special group of scholars studying in the kollel.
One of the structures on the property is the mikvah: the ritual bath for the women. Several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred. A person was required to be ritually pure in order to enter the Temple, and a woman is required to immerse in a mikvah after her menstrual period or childbirth before she and her husband can resume marital relations.
This otherwise standard-issue mystery is fascinating because throughout, we readers learn a lot about the practices and beliefs of devout orthodox Jews.
Our lady protagonist, Rina Lazarus, is the widow of one of the scholars. The yeshiva has given her a job teaching mathematics in the high school, and free housing in a tiny cottage as a way of supporting her and her kids, for which she is very grateful. In addition to the teaching, her duties include operating the mikvah for the women.
One night, as she was about to leave at her normal time, she decided to stay to finish grading some papers. The last woman left, and she was alone working when she heard a scream. Rushing out, she discovered the woman beaten and raped, but fortunately not killed.
The police were called in, and heading up the investigation was Peter Decker, a decent guy, and his female partner, Marge Dunn. And thus begins the story of Detective Decker and Mrs. Lazarus, as well as the solving of the crime.
Really good mystery for you mystery fans, and really good subplot for you personal relationship fans. Good book all around.