Page 201 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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Identity in Detective Fiction
This is the category of the stereotypical “other,” the non-Jewish
spouse, lover, or friend, who is the companion (and sometime
helper) to the Jewish detective. She (only occasionally a he) is the
embodiment of the untouchable and the most desirable. Out of
view is Len Schwartz’s wife Karen (created by Irving Weinman),
Rebecca Schwartz’s lover Rob Burns (created by Julie Smith), or
Albert Sampson’s unmarried girl friend (created by Michael Z.
Lewin). This category is different from the others, because these
non-Jews are not the heroes or heroines of our novels. They, how­
ever, populate the stories (often off-stage), assist the protagonists
in identifying the limits of their religious or ethnic identity, and
serve to push and pull the detective along the way.
Some have explained the popularity of detective fiction because
it seems to ensure the triumph of mind over matter.6 Perhaps it is
enjoyed and appreciated more for the need to create order out of
chaos, or to clean up messes. One such person is the mother who
comforts and thereby provides the time, space and nurturing nec­
essary to help solve the mystery.
The Indianapolis, down-at-the-heels private investigator Albert
Sampson, created by Michael Z. Lewin, has such a Mom, as does
the previously-mentioned, San Francisco attorney, Rebecca
Schwartz, created by Julie Smith. With New York-bred insight
and humor, Ida Fischman appears to be the perfect foil for her
daughter Nina, created by Marissa Piesman, as is Midge Cohen’s
mother, created by Toni Brill.
At the center of one series is a Mom who actually cooks, cleans,
dispenses advice to her ex-policeman son, and actually solves the
mysteries as well. The creation ofJames Yaffee, this Mom is a nice
(no-name) lady from the Bronx, now living in Mesa Grande, Col­
6 . Trotter