I'm not sure how I feel about recurring criminals. Any series - mystery or not - will have recurring characters, but even though Faye Kellerman has only used Chris Donetti in three widely spaced books, his presence feels more forced each time. She introduced him in Justice, as a teenager with perfect pitch and a dark secret who went to prison to spare his girlfriend the trauma of testifying at a murder trial. She brought him back in Stone Kiss, in his thirties and mixing crime and art and married although not living with his high school lover. Hangman opens with Chris's wife Terry asking Lt. Peter Decker to act as security while she negotiates a separation from her violent husband. Six hours later, Terry has disappeared and her and Chris's son Gabe has no one to call but Decker.
The following day, Decker goes out on a call - a young woman has been found hanging from a building site. It's not Terry, but Adrianna Blanc, a neonatal nurse at a local hospital. Still investigating Terry's disappearance, Decker leads his team in the investigation of what may be the work of a serial killer. Kellerman gives us two very plausible suspects and then carefully crafts (and supports) an ending surprising enough that she allows her detectives to state exactly how improbable that result actually is.
I know I've complained about the prevalence of subplots in the books I've read over the past few years. Perhaps those authors should read Kellerman's work because she knows how to weave a personal story into the solution of a gory crime. Because she started with relatively young characters, Kellerman has allowed them to age in approximately real time. It's been nearly twenty-five years since The Ritual Bath and Peter's daughter is a police detective, married and expecting her first child, Rina's sons are in their twenties and living on the East Coast, and the couple are facing an empty nest as Hannah prepares for college. Gabe Whitman has grown up in chaos, with a fiercely protective but emotionally guarded mother and a felonious father who occasionally drops in. As Hannah tells him, no family is truly normal, but the Decker/Lazarus family is affectionate and stable, giving 14-year-old Gabe his first taste of real family life. I doubt that many authors could so seamlessly combine serial murder, missing persons, an emotionally fragile teen, and a sweetly touching family dinner to celebrate Decker's 60th birthday, but Kellerman manages it quite well. Hagman is an effective mystery, tinged with just enough nostalgia to make me want to re-read the series from the beginning.