By Andy Weinberger; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Amos Parisman is a detective who just can’t seem to retire.
So when Rabbi Ezra Diamant of Shir Emet keels over dead at Canter’s Deli and Amos is asked by the synagogue board to investigate, he isn’t going to say no even though it strikes him odd that they asked.
Why not let the police investigate? Was his death even suspicious? He was known to be a smoker who didn’t eat a healthy diet. His Orthodox family has refused to allow an autopsy.
As his friend LAPD Lt. Bill Molloy asks, apologizing up front, “Why didn’t they hire a serious detective agency? Why’d they pull you out of retirement? Let’s face it, man, you’re not at the top of your game anymore. They knew that going in. I mean, c’mon, when’s the last time you worked a homicide?”
Attorney Howie Rothbart, president of Shir Emet, tells Amos that it’s not that the synagogue board thinks the rabbi was murdered, they just want to make sure that an investigation is done right. They don’t want the police to say it was due to natural causes and save themselves an investigation.
Soon, the rabbi’s new doctor, Dora Ewing, (recommended by Rothbart) is also dead. She appears to have interrupted a break-in. Drug samples were stolen from a locked cabinet. Her computer and Rabbi Diamant’s medical records are missing.
Amos learns that everybody has an opinion about the rabbi.
“He was a poet . . . a dynamic and forceful leader,” opines Alan Ross, a Shir Emet board member and co-owner of an Israeli-style kosher doughnut chain. The rabbi was a frequent guest speaker at interfaith gatherings. He was on a panel to end homelessness in Hollywood. He filled the synagogue on Shabbes.
But he was also controversial. In recent sermons, he suggested that the version of Jews’ exodus from Egypt wasn’t supported by archeological and historical facts. But if you get rid of the Exodus from Egypt what happens to the Promised Land?
There are precious few clues in this case, but as Amos has learned in his 40 years as a detective, “It’s hard work, pure and simple. You put in the time. You bear witness. . . If you find out something and it’s real, then brother, you have to stick with it, you can’t quit. You have to be stubborn once in a while. And sometimes you just have to be the last person left in the room wondering why.”
This is a fun book, especially if you know Los Angeles. Amos and his wife Loretta, who is developing some type of dementia, live in Park La Brea. The rabbi’s controversial sermons are interesting. Author Andy Weinberger does a good job of capturing L.A.’s ethnic diversity from Amos’ Hispanic sidekick who lives in Boyle Heights to the Central American woman who cares for Loretta to the mysterious Mordecai/Malcolm Bloom, a Sabra and a consultant who was sitting with the rabbi at lunch when he died.
There are a few Judaic mistakes: Amos says the name “Mordecai” comes from the Book of Ruth when it is most closely associated with the Book of Esther. There are suggestions that Shir Emet is an Orthodox synagogue. No observant Orthodox rabbi would be eating lunch at Canter’s Deli, which is not kosher as it is open on Saturdays and offers many non-kosher items, including ham sandwiches.
If you can over look those issues, it’s an interesting mystery.
Any reader from Los Angeles will recognize the many landmarks, Amos mentions: the Farmer’s Market, The Grove, Park La Brea and Third Street. Author Andy Weinberger peppers his prose with Yiddish like a New Yorker, but that just adds to the flavor.
AN OLD MAN’S GAME (2019) was the first of the Amos Parisman mystery series. It was followed by REASON TO KILL (2020) and THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS (2022),
The Author: Andy Weinberger
A long-time bookseller, Andy Weinberger opened Readers’ Books in Sonoma with his wife Lilla in 1991.
Born in New York, he grew up in Los Angeles and studied poetry and Chinese history at the University of New Mexico.