Written by Mark Reutlinger — Not all crime books have to be gory, graphic or downright dangerous. For example, Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries tend to tax the brain without unsettling the stomach, while Alexander McCall Smith’s No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books feature a traditionally built female sleuth whose most potent weapon is her common sense. Cosy is a very popular crime genre which lends itself to all manner of permutations, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before one was set in a retirement home for elderly Jewish folk. It’s a masterstroke by author Reutlinger, offering a wealth of possibilities for intrigue. So it is that we meet Mrs Rose Kaplan and her sidekick Ida, a kind of kosher Holmes and Watson, who soon have an intriguing mystery to solve.
Preparations for Passover are well under way, and as Mrs K’s matzoh ball soup has been judged the best in the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors, she proudly prepares it in the kitchen. But before the seder soup course can be served to everyone assembled in the dining room, one of their number is dead – with Mrs K as the prime suspect! Who knew that eating soup could be such a deadly business? Not poor Bertha Finkelstein, who ends up face down in the tasty entrée. An autopsy shows that she choked on a diamond earring belonging to fellow resident Daisy Goldfarb. Who stole it, and how did it end up in the soup? The police have Mrs K firmly in the frame – the race is on for her to prove her innocence of the dastardly deed.
But as Rose and Ida begin their clandestine investigations, they uncover all manner of underhanded goings on – and, in the down-to-earth style of Mma Precious Ramotswe of the aforementioned No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, they get things sorted through guile and sheer gumption. Forget about solving a murder, there are a fair few tales to sidetrack the pair along the way. There’s the strange case of the geriatric sex maniac, for example, and the question of how to convince the granddaughter of fellow resident Rachel Silverman that she is seeking romance with a very unsuitable boy. Once they find their focus again, our dynamic duo discover that proving Mrs K’s innocence is a little more tricky – these elderly ladies are not afraid to bend a few little rules along the way, but is hiring the services of a professional burglar really necessary? Rose and Ida think so, and what Flo the thief discovers sends the whole investigation off on a different tack.
I love the light-hearted style of this book, which will have you laughing out loud. The dialogue is scattered with Yiddish phrases and strange constructions which give it an authentic feel and add to the fun. The characters are well drawn and full of life and Mrs K’s no-nonsense style of sleuthing is worthy of Miss Marple, or her beloved Sherlock Holmes. Ida acts as narrator throughout and is a fine sidekick – at one point in the story, she is delighted to be compared with Dr Watson!
This is a second novel, but a cosy debut for Reutlinger, whose previous work was a thriller called Made in China. He displays a light touch and a talent for the quirky that sets the book apart from others in the genre. Mrs Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death could never be described as a taxing read, but if you are looking for light entertainment then it’s a book to add to your TBR list.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars