Lawrence Kelter’s Long Island-based crime novel, Secrets of the Kill (F Street Books), starts with a target-practice scene starring Kelter’s sleuth, the smart-mouthed ex-Marine, now FBI agent Chloe Mather, and then moves on to her investigation of a local homicide. Then it’s on to chapters starring Mafiosi where, alas, Mather makes too few appearances. Mather, a tough detective who’s spent fighting time in Afghanistan, is a delightful heroine. She gets on well with her live-in love Liam, a meteorologist, and they share a cottage in Huntington with Mather’s mother Grace.
Mather’s feisty and smart, and it takes her no time to discover the identity of the homicide victim, a young woman whose dismembered torso has been accidentally speared one night by a guy out fishing illegally. It turns out that the victim, Rachel Rubin, was working for Israeli intelligence, stationed in an office not far from JFK Airport that is masquerading as a freight transport business. The place turns out to be a front for an operation run by the Mob. It’s an exchange program—heroin for guns—with the guns being sent to a well-heeled sheik planning to kill thousands of Jews in New York.
The settings keep shifting, from Mather’s first-person point of view to third-person narration describing the actions of secondary characters, many of them Mafiosi in Florida and New York. The shift away from Mather (and from Liam and Grace, who never appear again) is unfortunate because Mather’s a hoot. We miss her when she’s not around. The most engaging parts of the novel involve put-down exchanges between her and her FBI partner, the fast-talking, equally funny Dominic Cabrera (who for some reason calls Mather “Gumdrop”). These two match each other insult for insult. No romance, but lots of affection and mutual respect.
Meanwhile, another kind of adventure has kicked in: an airplane in distress. The pilot of an incoming Israeli Air Force Gulfstream radios JFK Airport that his co-pilot is ill, but soon the pilot, too, falls unconscious. The lone passenger, a top intelligence agent on his way to find out what happened to Rachel, takes over and lands the plane. These chapters, though exciting, seem removed from the Mather-centered ones, especially as the narrative veers into ideology—terrorists vs. Israel. Everything is explained eventually, including some simulation technology, but even so, a reader may wonder about clues that were kept “secret.” Still, Secrets of the Kill is a fast-moving romp, even if it misses the mark as a thriller. Kelter, who has a fine comic sense, should roll it out without distraction next time and stay away from international scenarios that in real life often seem stranger—and more “secretive”—than fiction.