It’s the first time I try a cozy mystery led by a rabbi! Kemelman was listed in my 100 Must-read crime novels reference book in the sub-category Religious Sleuths… I’m not a religious person, but I figured if Rabbi Small was anywhere as good as Brother Cadfael or Father Brown (the only ones I knew in the list), he needed to be given a chance!
Actually it was fairly different from what I expected, because Kemelman completed the plot with interesting bits about conservative Judaism I know very little about (hassidism and pilpul for example), and also because it was a lot more provincial than what I’d expected. Rabbi Small is more comparable to Miss Marple, in that sense, because he knows every gossip of the little community of Barnard’s Crossing in Massachusetts (don’t look for it on a map!), and he’s very considerate with everyone.
As always, I don’t pick up series in the right order but it didn’t quite matter, I soon felt at home in the little village, where the local pharmacist is accused of malpractice after the wrong pills are delivered, on a stormy night, to a sick old man who dies of intoxication. The intrigue is rather slow, but it isn’t a problem, because it’s more a matter of atmosphere and characters. There’s no big mystery either, in that sense that action is propelled by everyday events and chance, but I still loved the wise rabbi.
To enter Barnard’s Crossing in 1976 is to enter a male-dominated world made of old connections and small family businesses. No big corporations, just a greedy guy who wants to buy a whole block for a shopping mall – and everyone thinks badly of him. Women play a very low-key role if any and whenever they work, it’s as a typist. It made me think that America has changed so much in more than 30 years!