by Sandra Murphy
& Ilene Schneider
This week we are reviewing Unleavened Dead by mystery writer Ilene Schneider. We also have guest post by Ilene about why she writes mystery novels. There are also details at the end of this post on how to win a copy of Unleavened Dead.
Unleavened Dead by Ilene Schneider
Review by Sandra Murphy
Rabbi Aviva Cohen is at it again—she’s helping the police whether they want her to or not. It all started when Florence’s daughter finally got engaged. After all, Audrey’s in her forties! But Aviva won’t do interfaith weddings so Florence is referred to Rabbi Ben. He doesn’t do interfaith marriages either but surely can recommend another rabbi who will. Should be easy enough, right?
Not so much. Ben didn’t ask if both the bride and groom to be were Jewish and they didn’t volunteer any information. Now Ben’s in line for a new job and the congregation is adamant about no interfaith marriages, past, present or future. Ben’s not the best rabbi to be found so keeping this job, and now this secret, is vital, especially to Sandy, Ben’s wife.
When Florence and her husband turn up dead, right after Ben and Sandy come to town, it makes Aviva wonder who’s to blame? Is it murder and could Sandy be the culprit? Aviva likes Ben so she would only suspect Sandy, of course. Maybe it was an accident? Carbon monoxide is a silent killer after all. The fire department says it might have been sparrows—there were the makings of a bird’s nest in the dryer vent.
In the midst of getting ready for Passover, cleaning the house and making food for Seder, officiating at a wedding, and wondering what’s up with Steve, ex-husband # 2, Aviva’s got a busy schedule but it’s about to get busier. Trudy and Sherry want to get married but just when they’re ready to make the announcement, Sherry loses her job—well, got demoted/kind of quit/ loses her job. That night, the man who did the firing/demoting/humiliating, is killed in a hit and run accident. It was an accident, right? Not really since witnesses said a dark SUV pulled away from the curb after the man stepped into the street, aimed right for him and sped up.
With Sherry under suspicion, Aviva has to add solving the crimes to her already too long To Do List. She’s sure Sherry is innocent so who could have done the deed? It might be someone from his past or maybe it was the handsome gangster-ish man Aviva met at the coffee shop? He wouldn’t have done it himself of course—he’d delegate.
Aviva is a great character, full of fun, somebody you’d feel comfortable hanging out with. Even though there are many mentions of Jewish tradition, non-Jews won’t feel bombarded with too much information or miss any good clues along the way.
The author, Ilene Schneider, is one of the first six women ordained as a Rabbi in the United States. She has written two other books—Chanukah Guilt, a cozy mystery and Talk Dirty Yiddish: Beyond Drek.
By Ilene Schneider
New acquaintance: “What do you do for a living?”
Murder mystery writer: “I kill people.”
I wish I could engage in that conversation, but I still have a day job. I’m a spiritual support counselor (aka chaplain) for a hospice. Instead, people I know ask me how I can deal in reality with people who are at the end of their lives, and then go home and devise ways for people to die in my books.
If I’m tired, I return the question, in the fashion of teachers and therapists (both of which skills I need in this and former jobs): “And why do you read mysteries?”
The answer to both why I (or we) write mysteries and why they (or we) read them is the same: control. And, especially in cozy mysteries where everyone lives happily–or, least, safely–ever after and the bad guys are not only arrested but convicted and sentenced, there’s the bonus of the satisfaction of justice having prevailed.
The world is chaotic and unpredictable and random, or so it often seems. There are so many things we are powerless to control: the weather and natural disasters (tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, blizzards, mud slides); sudden catastrophic illness (we all know people who eat properly and exercise regularly, and then are diagnosed with cancer); other people’s bad driving habits (drinking, speeding, talking on phones, texting, turning around to yell at their kids); stepping on a butterfly in Africa and causing a hurricane that hits the US; the vagaries of the economy; the popularity of lousy TV shows and movies. When writing a fictional murder mystery, though, the author has full control over what happens.
As a writer, I can have power over what happens to my characters. I can even call them “mine.” In the words of the High Holy Day liturgy, I can determine “who shall live and who shall die.” Playing God is fun, and it’s not as sacrilegious as founding a cult or as socially alienating as thinking I’m better than anyone else. Instead, it’s a way to become immersed in an alternate world, one in which the bad guys get what they deserve and the good guys feel vindicated.
There’s a reason why reading such stories is called, usually disparagingly, “escapism.” We do need to get away sometimes from the realities of our everyday lives, the worries about children and finances and health and nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. If we don’t have an escape hatch, one in which the world operates as we wish it would, we would all curl up in a ball and never emerge from our bedrooms. (I’m using the “royal ‘we.’” Of course, I mean “I.”)
Even in the case of a “pantser” like me, one who writes by the seat of her pants, one whose characters tell her what’s going to happen, there’s still the editing process. Don’t like what a character is up to? Just highlight the offending scene and hit “delete.” Too bad life doesn’t work that way. I think I’ll go write a new scene now; or maybe read another cozy.
To enter to win a signed copy of Unleavened Dead, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Unleavened”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 20, 2013. U.S. residents only.