THE BURNT HOUSE by Faye Kellerman

burnt house kellermanAn airliner has trouble on its takeoff and never quite gains its full altitude when it takes a nosedive and crashes into an apartment building in Lieutenant Peter Decker’s baliwick.  One of the people supposedly on board was a flight attendant, but not working, and not ticketed.  Grabbing a flight back from San Jose?   The husband wants her declared dead so he can collected the insurance money, honey.  Her parents want her declared dead because they are sure the husband killed her and used the accident as a way to cover it up.  But we have no body, no teeth, no effects, no nuttin’.

I love the title of this book because of the many layers involved.  Not only is the house or apartment building burnt, but in Jerusalem, as Rina tells her husband Peter, is an archeological find called Burnt House.  It is an excavated house from the Second Temple period situated six metres below current street level in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The Burnt House is believed to have been set on fire during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. According to Josephus, Jerusalem’s Upper City was known for its wealth. It was located close to the Temple and inhabited by priestly families who served in the temple.

Also found in the house was a round stone weight, 10 cm in diameter, and on it, in square Aramaic script was a Hebrew inscription indicating that the house belonged to the Kathros family.  According to the Talmud, the Kathros family was a priestly family that had abused its position in the Temple. Retribution is an ongoing theme in the biblical and Torah references.

Because of the underground find in Jerusalem, Rina reminds Peter to look below, in a basement or crawl space for evidence, for just as evidence of the Kathros house appeared far below what was expected, so, too, might he find evidence further down in the rubble, where he might also find evidence of a retribution of sorts.

And in addition, Burnt house could very well serve as a metaphor for a marriage gone awry, )that of the missing flight attendant and her spouse), as well as a physical house.

This volume in the series has less about the personal and religious life of the Deckers.  However, his grown daughter Cindy, now married to her Ethiopian Jewish young man, are in the throes of planning a large renovation and addition to their tiny home,  which brings in a retired cop now operating a construction business populated mostly by retired guys.  Decker finds this guy can be helpful in the missing flight attendant situation, and adds him as an ad hoc temp to the investigating team.   All in all, a lovely satisfying mystery.

Burnt House in Jerusalem

Burnt House in Jerusalem

This is the last Decker/Lazarus book I will be reading for a while.  I have succumbed to Series Burnout, and it’s time to turn to other books, which are piling up alarmingly, (if an electronic list on one’s Kindle can be said to pile up.)  The list is growing, and I am now anxious to embark on new voyages, discover new shores, and hopefully come up with some better cliches.

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