Monday, April 23, 2012

Book Review: The Tattooed Rabbi by Marvin Wolf

Walter Mosely. Michael Connelly. Add Marvin J. Wolf to that short list of masterful detective fiction writers. Here's hoping that his series of Rabbi Ben Maimon books is long and long-lived. This one is set in Los Angeles, where Wolf has been a crime fiction (and nonfiction) author for most of his life. He knows police procedural, forensic science, computer science, and Jewish theology -- all of which inform the book with delicious detail.

The little congregation of Beth Joseph in Burbank has more than a little problem. It seems someone anonymously deposited a couple of million bucks in one of their bank accounts. Is it a gift from God or a ploy by a scammer? They call on Rabbi Ben to sort things out oh-so discreetly, inviting him to journey from his home in Boston to pose as a visiting scholar. He's not fibbing, mind you, in that he is a Talmudic scholar and does happen to be visiting, but with full access to the shul's financial records and in close personal contact with its quirky board of directors, including some very influential megabucks ganser machers who have more secrets than closets in their palatial mansions.

Of course, the problem turns out to be not only the unexpected loot but also a whole nest of related and unrelated complications, and more than one grisly murder.

Wolf knows the form cold as a day-old corpse and gives us a thoroughly entertaining read straight through.

Only, dark as some aspects of this story are, I can't really characterize it as noir. After all, Rabbi Ben is watched over and cared for by the Master of the Universe, even though it will take all of this humble Jew's learning, wits, and martial arts chops to extricate himself and the temple faithful from this unholy mess.

[Cross-posted at Goodreads.com]


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