Friday, July 16, 2010

Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home

Here's how this works. I read a book or two and tell you about them and try not to get too long-winded, and maybe you'd like to think about reading them as well. This time, a review of Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home (Fawcett, 1970).

A few months ago, I read three of Harry Kemelman's detective stories about Rabbi David Small which I had found in an omnibus at a library sale. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a bookstore with credit to spend and picked up another four novels in the series. I'm not reading them in order, just as they strike my fancy.

In Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home, Small is in his early thirties and the principal crisis in the community is not the murder of a local boy. He had gone south to play college football but an injury brought him home, where he'd done little but aggravate his family and sell some pot. However, his body is found in a house that's crucial to the main plot, which deals with the political schism going on in the local congregation.

I really enjoy the way that Kemelman varies the structure of the books so that the focus can shift from a traditional murder mystery to something more subtle. This time around, I was more fascinated by the infighting and bickering than who finished off the punk. Kemelman has such a natural flair for dialogue and character that conversations go on for pages and I just get immersed in the debates and the give-and-take.

It's very much a book of it's time, and occasionally just terribly suburban. The period's racial issues are addressed with the subtlety of a jackhammer and the possibility of marijuana making the rounds of area bowling alleys is depicted as just about the worst thing ever. Nevertheless, it's an amusing and occasionally engrossing read, and while I wouldn't claim that you're losing out by skipping it, I think I can recommend it for mystery readers looking for something a little light and off-kilter. Psych and Monk fans, for example might get a kick out of it.

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