Jake Cooper is hardly a private investigator. But then Sender Stein, a member of the Orthodox Jewish community, falls to his death from the top of an apartment building. Sender was divorcing his wife Mindy, who is now a prime murder suspect. Jake has feelings for her and can’t believe she would do something so violent so he starts his own investigation, only to discover a tangled web of secrets and lies going back decades.
Irv Segal’s intriguing mystery novel SECRETS OF THE RABBI’S MAFIA has an exceptionally promising setup, with a former student from Rabbinical College investigating a possible murder. The novel’s setting is highly compelling and rich with potential. While set in modern-day Chicago, it takes place in a tightly-knit neighborhood of Orthodox Jews, insulated from the rest of the city and bound by ancient laws and customs. As is often the case with isolated communities, primary currencies are favors and gossip while the harshest punishment is exile. Jake hesitantly wades in deep and uncovers crooked deals covering up despicable crimes but soon finds his own life may be at stake.
A well-written mystery is like an intricate mechanism with the suspects, alibis, and clues all interacting together like cogs and springs in an old watch. Unfortunately, SECRETS OF THE RABBI’S MAFIA is a bit of a mess. Four principal villains frequently work at odds while chasing not one, but two mysterious manuscripts. The novel stutters along as the needs of the plot steer characters’ actions rather than the other way around. Jake is a likable protagonist, but his inability to ask logical follow-up questions and reach obvious conclusions gets frustrating. While villains are dangerous, they wait until the last moment to do anything drastic. It also doesn’t help that Segal has difficulty conveying his characters’ emotions and drives. Sometimes he withholds information, making their behavior feel strange. At other times, he awkwardly delivers exposition through dialogue and internal monologue, making the development and denouement of the story at times underwhelming. And yet, one hopes Segal will continue writing about Jake Cooper’s cases because the book’s premise is rock-solid.
Irv Segal’s mystery novel SECRETS OF THE RABBI’S MAFIA has an interesting premise, a likable protagonist and a fascinating setting. Unfortunately, it is also marred by clunky execution.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader