Sunday, May 15, 2011

Celebrating Mysteries: Jewish Amateur Sleuths

When I met fellow book blogger Kay at the Poisoned Pen this past week, we had the good fortune to meet and talk with Will, who's an employee of our favorite bookstore. Will told us that he'd been given more responsibility for the store's blog, and when he found out we were both book bloggers, the three of us started talking shop.

When he learned the name of my blog, he said, "I was just there. How do you know all that stuff?" Truth be told, I don't. Especially in this series. I've been learning about books and authors just as much as anyone who's been paying attention to the series. Yes, I have been sharing books that I've already read and enjoyed, but I've been adding to my own to-be-read shelves, too.

This month, I'm celebrating Jewish Heritage Month by featuring Jewish crime fiction. The books have either been written by Jewish authors, they have Jewish characters, or they're set in places like Israel. This week, I'm focusing on Jewish amateur sleuths, and I certainly hope you find a book or two in this post that you just have to read. Let's get started, shall we?

Sharon Kahn
Author Sharon Kahn has worked as an arbitrator and attorney, and is a graduate of Vassar College and the University of Arizona Law School. She's the former wife of a rabbi and mother of three, and she lives in Austin, Texas.

She writes the Ruby the Rabbi's Wife series featuring Ruby Rothman, a rabbi's widow living in Eternal, Texas. The series contains six books:

Fax Me a Bagel (1998), Never Nosh a Matzo Ball (2000), Don't Cry for Me, Hot Pastrami (2001), Hold the Cream Cheese, Kill the Lox (2002), Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver? (2004), and Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Choir (2006).

Publishers Weekly had this to say about the first book in the series, Fax Me a Bagel:

In Eternal, Tex., Ruby Rothman, a 46-year-old rabbi's widow, calls upon her knowledge of the Jewish community and her skills as a savvy computer consultant in this entertaining debut. When the sister of the temple board's vice-chairman is fatally felled by a poisoned bagel, the police arrest the baker, Ruby's friend Milt. While filling in for him at the bakery and trying to figure out why anyone would want to kill the mousy woman, Ruby finds a note in her late husband's files warning him to stay away from Milt and his bakery. After she is almost hit by a car on her way home one night, she decides that her husband, who died in a hit-and-run, was murdered and that she's the next target. But why? She learns about two brothers who started in the cutthroat bagel business in New York in the 1930s and pieces together the family feud that brought Milt to Texas. Memories of older relatives and additional notes from her late husband's files suggest that his family may have been involved in the feud, and then the threats on her life get more serious. Although the direction of the plot is given away in the first chapter, the action unfolds at a smart pace as readers are given the inside scoop on rabbi selection and installation and the history of the bagel union in New York. With her low-key sense of humor and her perky inquisitiveness, Ruby is a welcome addition to the ranks of amateur female sleuths. 

Jeffrey Cohen
Jeffrey Cohen is an amateur guitar player, a fan of Major League Baseball, a graduate student, and a teacher of screenwriting at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Oh. And he somehow manages to find the time to write three different mystery series. 

His Aaron Tucker series features a former investigative reporter and aspiring screenwriter in New Jersey. So far the series has three books: For Whom the Minivan Rolls (2002), A Farewell to Legs (2003), and As Dog Is My Witness (2005). (By the way, I noticed as I was doing research for this post that Jeffrey's first two Aaron Tucker books are available on Kindle for $2.39 each. So if you have the Kindle option....)

Here's what Publishers Weekly had to say about For Whom the Minivan Rolls:

Meet one of the most unlikely new sleuths in crime fiction, wise-cracking former investigative reporter and aspiring screenwriter Aaron Tucker, who agrees to help wealthy New Jersey businessman Gary Beckwirth find his missing wife, Madlyn. A mysterious minivan, a mayoral election and murder keep our hero hopping when he'd prefer to be stay-at-home dad.

Kyra Davis
Kyra Davis had a passion for the theater, but after taking time off between high school and college to travel around Europe, she decided to study Fashion Merchandising and Marketing. When her marriage began to fall apart, she found herself suffering from insomnia, and that was the beginning of her writing career.

Kyra has created a series featuring Sophie Katz, a half-Black, half-Jewish mystery writer who lives in San Francisco, California. There are five books in the series: Sex, Murder and a Double Latte (2005), Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights (2006), Obsession, Deceit and Really Dark Chocolate (2007), Lust, Loathing and a Little Lip Gloss (2009), and Vows, Vendettas and a Little Black Dress (2010).

Booklist says this about Sex, Murder and a Double Latte:

San Francisco settings enliven this high-spirited first mystery. Sophie Katz, a biracial, half-Jewish mystery writer, has just finished a book and is ready for some relaxation--until she discovers a few things amiss in her apartment, suggesting an intruder who is leaving signs that he or she was there. Then, when someone Sophie knows is murdered, she realizes that the violence is escalating, and the villain appears to be acting out scenes from one of her books. Davis' strength definitely lies in character development: were they 30 years older and living in Miami, sarcastic Sophie and her two best girlfriends, ditzy Mary Ann and nymphomaniac Dena, could be the Golden Girls. Sophie's gay friend Marcus adds some fun (and a lot of hairspray) to the mix, and her current flame, enigmatic Russian Anatoly Darinsky, is strong, sexy--and possibly the murderer.

Matt Beynon Rees
Matt Beynon Rees is an award-winning British writer who's been called "the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine." He moved to Jerusalem in 1996 for love, but when the marriage fell apart, he stayed on in Jerusalem because the place had taken such a strong hold on him.

Rees is the author of the Omar Yussef Sirhan mystery series. Yussef is a fifty-something schoolteacher in a Palestinian refugee camp who lives in Bethlehem.

The series currently contains four books: The Collaborator of Bethlehem APA The Bethlehem Murders (2007), A Grave in Gaza APA The Saladin Murders (2008), The Samaritan's Secret (2009), and The Fourth Assassin (2010).

Booklist says this about award-winning The Collaborator of Bethlehem:

Omar Yussef is a schoolteacher in Bethlehem, struggling to teach history unfettered by politics. When a PLO soldier is murdered, and a Palestinian Christian is arrested for the crime (and accused of being a collaborator with the Israelis), Yussef launches his own investigation, convinced that the accused, a former student, is innocent. Yussef knows he is not a brave man ("What an old fool you are, scrambling about in a battle zone in your nice shoes"), but his determination to stand up for his friend outweighs the futility of his quest, even if it means jeopardizing his family. The premise of this gripping first novel by Time magazine's former Jerusalem bureau chief evokes that sense of mean-streets honor that drives so much crime fiction, but there is no sentimentality lurking beneath Rees' complex, uncompromising tale of a good man trapped in an untenable world. The plot unfolds with a tragic inevitability, but along the way, Rees captures the human spark of daily lives being led in totally polarized, soul-deadening conditions. Ideologically driven absurdity blocks Yussef's way from every direction, but he plods on in his nice shoes, determined to throw "the filth out of his own home with hopelessly insufficient tools."

Wow! What a wide-ranging group of amateur sleuths! I know this post certainly increased the size of my wish list, and I hope it did yours, too. Don't forget to stop by next weekend when Celebrating Jewish Mysteries continues!


  1. Cathy, always something new to learn about in your lists. LOL

    I've enjoyed Sharon Kahn's mysteries. I'm just sorry she seems to be finished with her writing career. Love the titles.

    I think my daughter would enjoy Kyra Davis' books. I hadn't heard of the other writers. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think the Kyra Davis books are a lot of fun -- good pick-me-ups for a lazy Saturday.

  3. I notice you are reading a Peter Bowen. I love the Gabriel Du Pre mysteries. Some are better than others, but though it has been years since I read most of them, I still remember the characters and some of the scenes.

  4. Jeffrey Cohen's Double Feature series is also good, though only three books long.

  5. Kay-- You're welcome. And thanks for bringing up Kahn's titles. I really like those titles, too!

    Candace-- Thanks for the thumbs up!

    Joe-- They are very memorable to me. Now that I've read NAILS, I've read all the books in the series. It was a bittersweet moment when I closed that book.

    Pepper-- Thanks for the recommendation!


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!