This is the latest in the Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus series by this popular American crime writer. A 15 year-old boy, Greg Hesse, has been found shot at his home. It seems an open-and-shut case of suicide, but his mother, Wendy, refuses to believe it and contacts Detective Decker. Decker, who has a fifteen-year-old foster son himself, is sympathetic, and although there is nothing to suggest that it wasn’t a suicide, decides that he and his wife Rina will investigate the matter.
The main character is really their foster-son, Gabe, whose parents have virtually abandoned him - his mother has left to start a new life in India, while his father is one of the biggest Mafia bosses in the USA. Gabe is a phenomenally talented pianist, and his life centres round his hopes for his future career. He is sitting in a coffee bar minding his own business when he is accosted by a crowd of aggressive, unpleasant teenagers who are looking for trouble. Gabe is well able to deal with the situation and informs the thuggish leader, Dylan, that his name is Chris and his father is who he is. This impresses Dylan, and the gang reluctantly leave Gabe alone.
In the meantime Decker and Lazarus interview Wendy, the suicide’s mother, who explains that her son was happy and a good student at his high school, Bell and Wakefield. This is an exclusive local establishment with a high academic and sporting record. When asked if there was a bullying culture in the school, Wendy assures them that Greg was not bullied, although does admit that a friend of his was, to the extent that his parents withdrew him from the school.
At 6 am a few days later, Gabe is sitting in another coffee bar, before catching a bus to his piano tutor, when he is approached again, this time by a tiny, pretty girl who offers him two tickets to the opera, to hear a celebrated soprano. She has heard Gabe play and is greatly in awe of him. He says he would love to go, but suggests she uses the other ticket herself. She explains that her parents are very strict Iranian Jews and don’t even know she has the tickets. However he succeeds in persuading her to go with him. This is the beginning of a turgid teenage love affair that in my opinion occupies far too much of the book.
The investigation into the death of Greg Hesse is continuing when a second suicide of a student at Bell and Wakefield occurs. Decker finds the staff at the school unco-operative if not downright hostile. He also comes across Dylan, scion of a wealthy family who is regarded by the staff as an exemplary student. This of course is the same Dylan who accosted Gabe in the first chapter. The police discover that the guns used by both the dead students were registered as stolen. All these threads are skilfully woven together until the anticipated climax is reached – and Gabe’s criminal dad is still waiting in the wings.
The novel presents a depressing picture of school life in the United States, confirming the impression given by events such as the massacre at Colombine.