Sunday, August 1, 2010

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (Fawcett, 1964)

I read the first of Harry Kemelman's series of novels about amateur sleuth Rabbi David Small after finishing four others in the series. I've really enjoyed reading them out of sequence, although I've had to force my system to allow me to do it that way. It's just not in my nature to read series out of order!

I really like the way that Kemelman started Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by establishing David as a character who simply isn't going to do what audiences will expect. He agrees to mediate a dispute about car damages between two members of his temple, and I would bet that almost every person reading this book would come to the same conclusion that I did as to who should pay for the repairs, but the character's fascinating use of logic and reasoning turns things completely on their heads. That's not the first time in this book that things don't go the way they're planned.

Interestingly, Barnard's Crossing's police chief Hugh Lanigan comes across as very much an equal character in this book, which is as much focused on him as the rabbi. They get to meet at cross purposes, as the rabbi is a suspect in a girl's death. I used to wonder whether NBC had screwed with the premise when they did their TV adaptation in the '70s and called it Lanigan's Rabbi, but they were really following the template of the original novel. While later books would use Lanigan as a supporting character, the first time out, the story's as much his as it is Small's.

I enjoy this series more with each one I read, and happily recommend them to anybody who likes detective fiction, on the understanding that they're probably more for the Columbo and Murder, She Wrote fans than any other school. Why the heck hasn't the USA Network started a new adaptation of these? There's no character they could welcome more than the rabbi!

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