August 11, 2003 12:00 PM

By Faye Kellerman

Here is a crime novel that isn’t: Rape and murder cases drive the action, but the best stuff in this book has little to do with detective work. When young cop Cindy Decker finds a newborn in a Dumpster, a series of investigations brings her into contact, both professional and personal, with a male nurse named Yaakov (Koby) Kutiel. Like her, he’s Jewish, but she’s a white woman from L.A., and he’s a black man originally from Ethiopia.

Their romance and its impact on her family become the focus of this 15th book in Kellerman’s bestselling series about L.A. detective Peter Decker (Cindy’s dad) and his wife, Rina Lazarus. That pair fade into the background this time, though Peter does pitch in to help Cindy, who slowly begins to show a flair for investigation. There isn’t much suspense; the Decker-Lazarus subplot about finding the killer of Rina’s grandmother seems like an afterthought. On the bright side, Kellerman still has a warm and wry flair for describing Orthodox Jewish culture. And she captures the complexity of young people who have to meander a while before finding each other. Lovers of romantic schmaltz, dive in. (Warner, $25.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Mediocre mystery, decent love story

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