In Appel’s (The Biology of Luck, 2013, etc.) mystery novel, an unusual rabbi seeks the truth about a local woman’s death.
Kappelmacher isn’t your typical rabbi. He has a faithful congregation but also a mind for riddles, a nose for the mysterious and a distinct love for pastrami sandwiches. When his former assistant rabbi, lawyer Marshall Green, tells him about the suspicious death of Florence Eisenstein, an elderly client with a complicated will, Kappelmacher and his current assistant, Steinmetz, snap to action to get to the bottom of it. It turns out that Florence and her sister, Lorraine, were bound by a caveat in their wealthy father’s will that neither would ever marry; if either did so, the newlywed would be disinherited and the other sister would receive her share. But strangely, Florence died the day after her wedding. A doctor says that she passed away due to an asthma attack, but some people aren’t so sure. Was someone trying to kill Florence’s sister, in a case of mistaken identity, to come into some quick cash? Or did Florence’s cousin, Agatha, or nephew, Fred, kill her to settle an old family grudge? Using lies and clever tricks, Kappelmacher and Steinmetz try to quietly solve Florence’s murder before someone finds out they’re not professional detectives. Appel’s novel is funny, thoughtful and fiercely entertaining, but it does run into a few bumps along the way. For example, Kappelmacher’s use of Yiddish at every turn is somewhat overwrought; he insults Steinmetz with so many “dumkopfs” and “nudniks” that readers may start to feel a little bad for the guy. That said, Kappelmacher largely comes off as a stimulating, perfectly idiosyncratic frontman throughout this tale. The well-paced plot neither plods nor races to the finish as some other whodunits do, and the final resolution is both surprising and refreshing. Appel, a prolific writer in other genres, would do well to continue writing such suspenseful prose, as he apparently has a knack for it.
A rousing religious mystery—pastrami not included.