Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death

Author:  Mark Reutlinger
Genre:  Mystery

Three Stars
Everyone knows that Rose Kaplan makes the best matzoh ball soup around—she’s a regular matzoh ball maven—so it’s no surprise at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors when, once again, Mrs. K wins the honor of preparing the beloved dish for the Home’s seder on the first night of Passover.

But when Bertha Finkelstein is discovered facedown in her bowl of soup, her death puts a bit of a pall on the rest of the seder. And things go really meshugge when it comes out that Bertha choked on a diamond earring earlier stolen from resident Daisy Goldfarb. Suddenly Mrs. K is the prime suspect in the police investigation of both theft and murder. Oy vey—it’s a recipe for disaster, unless Rose and her dear friend Ida can summon up the chutzpah to face down the police and solve the mystery themselves.
Rose Kaplan is chosen to make the matzoh soup for the first night of Passover, since she makes better matzoh than most.  Shortly after the soup is served, Bertha Finkelstein dies while eating it, and falls face down in her soup.  When the death is investigated, it is discovered that Bertha choked to death on a diamond earring that was purloined earlier from Daisy Goldfarb.  Since no one was around when Rose made the soup, she becomes the prime suspect, with the police believing that she either put the earring in the matzoh or the soup itself.  So now it is up to Rose and Ida to discover the truth.

I found it odd that Daisy hadn't mentioned at dinner that her earrings were missing - I would think she would have mentioned it to someone, but no one seemed to know about it until after Bertha died and the discovery was made.  Since the earrings were kept in plain sight by the door, she should have noticed immediately; I would have; although it is possible she didn't notice.

I understand that Rose and Ida were meant to be funny, but they just weren't.  They were two older (in their 70's) Jewish women who don't have blue hair or wear outrageous clothing or jewelry, nothing to make them funny characters.  They are, in fact...normal.  Ida, who narrates the story, spouts a lot of Yiddish (with explanations at times), and some of the things she says I am sure are meant to be funny, ("the cast is dyed,") but that's just a malapropism.  The mention over and over of the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors unfortunately downgraded the rating.

There is also a side story of another resident and her daughter, Doreen, and Doreen's maybe-married-or-not rude boyfriend that seems superfluous.  Mrs. K solves this problem also in record time, in what I figure is an attempt to show how smart she is (like Sherlock Holmes, her hero), because it doesn't seem to belong in the story anywhere, and doesn't have any relevance to the death.

When Mrs. K solves the murder and informs the police, it doesn't really make sense.  To see the spoiler, please read my review on Goodreads.  But the two investigating officers (one who looks like Inspector Dalgleish and the other Lieutenant Columbo, according to Ida) don't have a lot to do here, they're just figureheads.  The story is Rose and Ida's, and the action completely centers on them.  In fact, the officers act as if they're doing nothing at all, since the two women aren't involving them in any way - not asking questions or talking to them at all - it is just as if they have made up their mind Rose is guilty and that is that.  But, as I stated before, Sherlock Holmes is her hero, and she goes about investigating in the way she thinks he would, and I believe she is supposed to come off as some elderly female Holmes.  Normally I enjoy elderly female sleuths, so this wasn't an issue.

I honestly can't say what it was about the book that just seemed "off," but perhaps it was all the Yiddish, I had to keep looking up the words.  A good rule of thumb in a book is if the reader has to look up meanings every five minutes, eventually they're going to find it annoying.

The book is definitely Ida and Rose, and everyone else is cardboard and secondary.  But the book is written to sort of make Rose and Ida female Holmes and Watson, of which a certainty they are not.  Mildly entertaining. 

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