Irv Segal’s novel, the first in a planned series, introduces Jake Cooper, a former yeshivah student who becomes an unlikely detective.
Jake, divorced and having just left Chicago’s Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, dips his toe into the modern dating scene by attending a Jewish singles night. There, he meets Mindy, another former member of the insular sect. Mindy is going through a painful divorce of her own, including a nasty custody battle, but she and Jake strike up a tentative relationship.
When Mindy’s sleazy soon-to-be-ex, Sender, plunges to his death from the roof of her apartment building, she becomes a murder suspect. With the help of Jake’s friend Pinky, Jake sets out to clear her name.
The deeper Jake looks into Sender’s life and troubled family history, the more secrets he uncovers. Sexual abuse, blackmail, murder and vigilantism lurk beneath the ultra-religious community’s disciplined and virtuous exterior. As Jake gets closer to the mysterious rabbi at the heart of the scandals, he finds himself – and Mindy’s children – in danger.
Secrets of the Rabbi’s Mafia is a promising mystery debut. Jake combines an unusual background with a loveable everyman demeanor. Whether he’s trying to figure out how to pay at a bar, bemoaning the workload at his job, or bantering with Pinky as they brainstorm solutions to Mindy’s plight, readers will be firmly on his side.
The novel is not without flaws. Its multiple points of view feel unnecessary, particularly because Jake is so engaging. And Segal occasionally belabors his descriptions: for instance, one character is described as “a short, fat brick wall,” “a grimy little man” and “a little black ox” over the course of just a few pages.
But these relatively minor issues shouldn’t deter readers in search of a new private eye series. Secrets of the Rabbi’s Mafia will entertain its target audience and leave readers looking forward to the next installment.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.