The rabbi sleuth

Joseph Telushkin's rabbi detective solves murders while providing lessons on Jewish conduct.

telushbook88 298 (photo credit: )
telushbook88 298
(photo credit: )
The Final Analysis of Dr. Stark By Joseph Telushkin Toby Press, 215pp., $9.95 Scholar, author, lecturer, commentator and rabbi, Joseph Telushkin has made many serious contributions to Jewish scholarship. In 1987, 1988 and 1991, he also published a trilogy of detective stories featuring Rabbi Daniel Winter as an amateur sleuth. Toby Press is placing Telushkin's fans in its debt by re-issuing the three books. The Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi Wahl appeared in April 2005. The Final Analysis of Dr. Stark was released in September 2005 and the final volume, An Eye for an Eye, is scheduled for publication in February 2006. In March 2006, a new trilogy will be launched when A Code of Jewish Ethics appears. This series will express Telushkin's effort to restore ethics to their central role in Judaism. He plans to examine the conflicts that arise in interpersonal relations, using the Bible, Talmud, Jewish and non-Jewish sources to present judgments about right and wrong behavior. Similarly, as his fictional Rabbi Winter solves murder mysteries, he provides lessons about appropriate Jewish conduct, demonstrating his commitment to the importance of personal integrity in daily actions. Using a light touch in his novels, he succeeds in teaching while entertaining. As implied by the title, the murder victim is psychoanalyst Dr. Noah Stark, who had an illustrious group of patients in Los Angeles. He was a member of Rabbi Winter's congregation, and had just announced his engagement to Jennifer Steen, daughter of Dr. Stark's training analyst. The next day, when Rabbi Winter visits Dr. Stark's office, he discovers the analyst's body. This sets in motion a determined investigation by the police. In the course of these inquiries, suspicion falls on a number of Dr. Stark's patients, including a congressman and an embezzler. There is a dispute about the availability of Dr. Stark's records, since they are confidential. Complicating matters is the disappearance of his appointment book. Adding even further to the mystery is the fact that Dr. Stark's body was found on the couch ordinarily used by his patients. Clues are unearthed that point to one suspect after another. The proliferation of motives possessed by many possible killers intensifies the mystery. At one point, the most likely killer appears to be a female patient who was sleeping with Dr. Stark and who was incensed at the announcement of his engagement. However, this and the other leads peter out until Rabbi Winter comes up with a surprise solution. Conventionally, mystery writers sprinkle their stories with hints and suggestions that point to the killer. But there are many variations on this approach, and Telushkin defies the process of reasoning logically from the clues by introducing new evidence at the end that surprisingly identifies the murderer. His presentation of the solution involves analysis of a biblical passage and demonstrating its relevance to finding the killer. Detective and mystery stories provide light entertainment, appealing to readers who are challenged to solve the puzzle. Telushkin has met that criterion while seasoning his story with Jewish lore and humor. Those who missed the Rabbi Winter series when it first appeared have a special treat in store, and all readers can look forward to the final volume, An Eye for an Eye. The writer is the founding dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University.