We are trying to persuade a large local bookstore to let us put together a selection of Jewish-themed mysteries that they could feature in time for the Jewish holidays in the fall. My people, we buy a lot of books, and come the holiday-season, with all that family togetherness, we tend to get a little desperate for distraction. A novel with Jewish themes, I figured, would go some way toward lessening the guilt we’ll feel for burying our heads in books, rather than in the bosoms of our families.
And it’s not like it’s hard to come up with a list. Even tiny Felony & Mayhem has a swell line-up of Jewish thrills, about which more in a moment. Broaden things out to the wider world of publishing, and it’s an embarrassment of riches. First up– and just because I recently read a wonderful essay of his in the New Yorker – I’d put Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, followed in close order by Fay Kellerman’s The Ritual Bath, David Liss’s The Conspiracy of Paper, Howard Engel’s “Benny Cooperman” series beginning with The Suicide Murders; Kaddish in Dublin, by John Brady; and Friday the Rabbi Slept Late, by Harry Kemelman. And how could I forget Batya Gur’s “Michael Ohayon” series, set in Israel and opening with The Saturday Morning Murder; or Daniel Silva’s series about an Israeli art expert/spy; or Aileen Baron’s Jerusalem series, beginning with A Fly Has a Hundred Eyes? And those are just the ones that come immediately to mind.
Except, of course, for ours. In looking at the F&M “Jewish” list, I find myself astonished by its breadth. At one end is Marissa Piesman’s deliciously funny Unorthodox Practices, about the ultimate Nice Jewish Girl and the mother who drives her crazy. It’s so New York it practically comes with a bagel stapled to the cover. And at the other end of the spectrum is the brilliant Zaddik, by David Rosenbaum, a dark tale that starts out as a brooding, beautifully written private-eye novel set in Brooklyn, only to explode outward into something so much richer and more deeply textured that….well, when I first read this book, about 20 years ago? I called the editor and (in a fit of rather mind-blowing arrogance) asked if he understood how good it was. My advice: Fire up some classic klezmer music and set aside several hours for the kind of old-fashioned read they’re not writing any more.
And bubbele? We can get it for you wholesale: Sign up for our newsletter and snag yourself a sweet discount on Zaddik and a new F&M title every few weeks. And don’t forget to tell us: What are YOUR favorite Jewish mysteries?