Page 197 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

Basic HTML Version

Identity in Detective Fiction
curred in the 1966 international best-seller,
Friday the Rabbi Slept
, and whose latest appearance came thirty years later, in
Day the Rabbi Left Town
(1996). In twelve novels that cover the days
of the week and beyond, Rabbi Small uses talmudic logic to solve
the murder of a congregant or an acquaintance. At the same time,
running parallel to the mystery is a problem in the synagogue, usu­
ally one that can result in a serious disruption of the rabbi’s life and
career. This sub-genre often confronts those issues of American
Jewish life that are most vital and controversial. But Rabbi Small is
not the only rabbi/detective. There is also Joseph Telushkin’s cre­
ation, Daniel Winter, a West Coast rabbi-detective—as opposed
to Rabbi Small of the Boston area’s North Shore—who first ap­
peared in
The Unorthodox Murder o fRabbi Wohl
(1987), and travels
among the Beverly Hills elite solving crimes. While both rabbis are
a little too cardboard in their construction, they enliven and enter­
tain the reader who enjoys learning about facets of traditional Ju­
daism and finds pleasure in these amateur detectives utilizing their
Jewish knowledge to help solve the case.
For many, the most riveting and intriguing character is the pri­
vate eye. He—or she—is the loner, the detective who lives in many
different cities, is typically highly assimilated and leads the good
fight against the always-present evil. The protagonist does so in
one of the only places in life where all the questions get answered,
turning clues into leads and leads into facts.3
From C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes (neither of
whom was Jewish) toMoses Wine, the story of the private eye con­
fronts something out of place. Even if crime may defy our moral
understanding, identifying traces of evidence are left behind. In
detective fiction, this material evidence has to be deciphered, for it
is the stuff of moral and material substance.4
David Trotter, “Theory and Detective Fiction,"
Critical Quarterly,
33(2), 66-77.