Book Plunge For Fun: Rabbi David Small Mysteries

What do I think of this read? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I recently finished reading all twelve of these mysteries by Harry Kemelman who has a Jewish rabbi, David Small, as his sleuth. Clergy as detectives being in the field I’m in are always fun to read and yes, I have read all of Father Brown. The Rabbi Small mysteries follow the adventures of Rabbi Small in his town of Barnard’s Crossing where it seems every few years a strange murder takes place. (Okay. Two times he goes to Israel and yes, a murder takes place on each of his visits.)

In the first one, the new rabbi is himself a suspect, but in this, he winds up using his skills of Talmudic reasoning to solve the case and befriend Hugh Lanigan, the Catholic Police Chief. The two are fast friends and they and their wives get together regularly. There is also no attempt to convert one another. Still, Small is happy to explain Jewish reasoning and customs to Lanigan and anyone else who’s interested.

Unfortunately for Small, his insistence on following the procedures to the letter can often get him in trouble with his congregation who sometimes think it would be better to let go of some practices. Thus, there will regularly be attempts to remove the rabbi from leadership, but somehow, he always overcomes in the end. Also in between keeping his job, solving murders, and doing Talmudic studies, the good rabbi has to work to raise a family.

Rabbi Small is a figure who’s a bit of an aloof detective. He’s the detective who doesn’t know he’s a detective and it seems like often no one else does either. After the first few solves, you start to wonder why Lanigan just doesn’t go to the rabbi every time to get the solution to the case. It’s not uncommon to see the rabbi walk in on a discussion of the case, hear all the reasoning, and explain what has happened. One time at least he solves the case and doesn’t even go straight to the police. He just waits until he’s talking to them again and it’s explained so nonchalantly. Lest you read the series, I don’t want to tell what it is due to spoilers.

Overall, the rabbi is a very likable fellow who sticks to his practice even when it is not favorable. He is also friendly to his Christian counterparts, including Chief Lanigan. That being said, there are a few things that I would have liked to have seen changed.

When the first child was being born in the series, that was a large part of a book, but after he was born, he’s spoken of some, but not that often. It’s like he’s there in the background. Then suddenly at one point, they also have a teenage daughter and lo and behold, in another future book, she’s getting married. Again, the children don’t really seem to matter much to the family.

Finally, sometimes, the set up for the mystery seemed to take too long. It could seem as if you were at the halfway point in the book when now this is where the murder takes place. I would have liked to have seen more time on the murder and solving it.

Still, if you’re like me and you like mysteries, this is a good series to read. I did the reading on Kindle and most of the books are very inexpensive. You can look up the order online and enjoy them all. I also understand that there was briefly a TV series based on the mysteries and I wouldn’t mind seeing what that was like sometime.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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