With less than two weeks to go until Chanukah and less than three weeks until Christmas, I want to spend the next couple of weeks talking about books that might help instill some of the holiday spirit in you. Let's begin today with "Friday the Rabbi Slept Late," the first book in Harry Kemelman's series of books about Rabbi David Small, the rabbi of a small Conservative synagogue in the small, suburban community of Barnard's Crossing, Massachusetts. It's the subject of this week's review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Rabbi Small is a wonderful character. In this book, he finds himself at odds with a number of prominent congregants (which, speaking from experience, is hardly unique in most religious communities), who are trying to get him fired. But he also finds himself caught up in the murder of a young woman whose body is found in the rabbi's car, which was left parked but unlocked in the synagogue parking lot. A surprising amount of the evidence appears to point to the rabbi himself, but he winds up joining forces with the town's Roman Catholic police chief, Hugh Lanigan, to solve the murder - a feat he accomplishes by using traditional Jewish methods of scholarship and debate. In the course of doing so, he will teach some valuable lessons to his congregation, and to the larger town as well, about Judaism and about overcoming mindless prejudice.
"Friday the Rabbi Slept Late" won an Edgar from the MWA for the best first mystery novel of 1964. Rabbi Small went on to star in eleven more books. I don't know of many other mysteries starring a rabbi, and a believable one at that. Rabbi Small is a warm and wonderful character - and so, for that matter, is Chief Lanigan. The series has been out of print for a while, so it is good to see it coming back, courtesy of Rosetta Books, as an ebook.