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by Abigail Browning, editor
Thomas Dunne Books, April 2004
285 pages
ISBN: 0312325061

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If nothing else, MURDER IS NO MITZVAH will improve your Yiddish vocabulary. Abigail Browning has collected a dozen short stories from the pages of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine; the unifying factor is that all 12 stories have something to do with a Jewish occasion or holiday. Looking at the author list, I am pretty sure that not all of the authors are Jewish, but that doesn't keep them from telling interesting, compelling, fascinating stories.

Some of the stories are contemporary, some are set in another time and place, some are a combination of the two. Most have an element of humor, although it certainly isn't mandatory. I am reluctant to give a synopsis of each story, or to single out any one for closer scrutiny. I was, as a long-time reader of mysteries, rather surprised at how few of the authors I recognized by name: Batya Swift Yasgur, Arthur Conan Doyle, Max Allan Collins, James Yaffee, and Doug Allyn. Just a little less than half and I expected (for no real reason, I guess) to see more familiar names.

Now I know to look for works by the writers previously unknown to me: Michael Kahn, Gregory Fallis, Ronald Levitsky, Russell William Asplund, Louis Weinstein, Larry Beinhart, and Bernice F Weiss. It was a real treat to read so many new authors, and want to read more by them.

Having grown up in a suburb of New York City, I have more than a passing acquaintance with Jewish holidays and Yiddish expressions. It is always a pleasant surprise when I can learn more about something, and so MURDER IS NO MITZVAH was, for me, full of pleasure. While most of the unfamiliar terms can be figured out from context, or translation provided by the author, the glossary at the end of the book will certainly come in handy for readers who didn't grow up reading Leo Rosten and his THE JOYS OF YIDDISH.

I heartily recommend MURDER IS NO MITZVAH to fans of the short story; there are no bad examples of the form in this book. I would also recommend this book to anyone looking for a new author to read; the writers whose other work I am familiar with are well represented here, so I am assuming that holds true for the authors with whose work I am not familiar.

If a reader is looking for examples of the Jewish gestalt, MURDER IS NO MITZVAH isn't a bad place to start. Certainly some of the characters in some of the stories live up to some of the stereotypes we've come to associate with, for example, the phrase ³Jewish Mother², or with characters associated with a certain era in history, such as gangsters in the 1930s.

So what didn't I like? That there were only 12 stories. That some of the happier Jewish holidays were not represented. If that's all there is not to like, MURDER IS NO MITZVAH is, in and of itself, a pretty good example of a mitzvah. Abigail Browning should be kvelling all over the place from such a book.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, May 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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