Heady murder mystery gets new life in paperback

A scholar, lecturer and versatile author, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin may be best known for such works as “Jewish Literacy,” “The Ten Commandments of Character” and “The Book of Jewish Values.”

He has also contributed to the writing of such TV shows as “The Practice,” “Boston Public” and “Touched by an Angel.”

The rabbi is also a murder mystery writer, the author of a trilogy featuring Rabbi Daniel Winter as his sleuth. Originally published in 1987, the first of the trilogy, “The Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi Wahl,” has now been republished as a paperback by Toby Press, which also plans to reissue the other two books.

Readers who missed Rabbi Winter when he first appeared now have a pleasant opportunity to enjoy his diligent detective work intermingled with Jewish lore and humor. Those who are familiar with him will welcome this opportunity to become reacquainted.

The often-testy relationships between rabbis and their synagogue boards are exemplified by Winter’s exchanges with the president of his shul. Far more problematic is the plight of assistant Rabbi Myra Wahl, who has just been told by the officers of her congregation that they want her to resign a year before her contract expires. She is an outspoken feminist whose strident views have antagonized the executive committee.

As the story opens, she is about to express her opinions as a panelist on the rabbi’s Sunday radio show, “Religion and You.” The other participants for this particular evening are a nun and a female minister. After a stormy exchange, they take telephone calls that provoke further controversy, including a bitter clash between Rabbis Winter and Wahl. When Wahl is found murdered after the show, suspicion falls on Winter, who is determined to remove any doubts about himself by tracking down the killer on his own.

The police investigating the crime include Brenda Goldstein, a good-looking police psychologist with a Ph.D. who met Winter just before the murder. They are attracted to each other, but the blossoming of their incipient romance is blocked by the search for the killer, even though it becomes quickly apparent that Winter is innocent. Several other suspects appear as the sifting of clues proceeds. Another murder complicates matters, but eventually the diligent rabbi succeeds in identifying the perpetrator, simultaneously getting to the bottom of an earlier killing.

Solving a murder mystery and a romantic attachment are smoothly blended with lessons about the Jewish views on abortion, homosexuality, parent-child relationships, morality and capital punishment. The result is a heady brew that captures the reader’s interest and grips it firmly until the murderer is identified.

Toby Press should be applauded for making this book available again and we should look forward to the reprinting of the other two Rabbi Winter thrillers, “The Final Analysis of Dr. Stark” (1988) and “An Eye for An Eye” (1991). In addition, Telushkin fans may also enjoy the recently published “Heaven’s Witness,” a murder mystery co-written with Allen Estrin.

“The Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi Wahl” by Joseph Telushkin (205 pages, Toby Press, $9.95).