October 14, 2009

Stuart Kaminsky: 1934-2009

Rest in peace, Stuart Kaminsky.
Farewell, Abe Lieberman, K&L, Temple Mir Shavot


Over the course of 17 years, Chicago-born author Stuart Kaminsky gave us ten full-length mysteries based on the character of Abe Lieberman, a weary veteran detective on the Chicago police force:

Lieberman’s Folly (1990)
Lieberman’s Choice (1993)
Lieberman’s Day (1994)
Lieberman’s Thief (1995)
Lieberman’s Law (1996)
The Big Silence (2000)
Not Quite Kosher (2002)
The Last Dark Place (2004)
Terror Town (2006)
The Dead Don’t Lie (2007)
— list borrowed from Wikipedia’s entry on Kaminksy

He also wrote two short Lieberman stories: “Confession,” included in Mystery Midrash: an Anthology of Jewish Mystery and Detective Fiction (1999), and “The Tenth Man,” included in Criminal Kabbalah: an Intriguing Anthology of Jewish Mystery and Detective Fiction (2001). Both anthologies are edited by Lawrence Raphael and published by Jewish Lights (and both very worthwhile in several ways. See also Naso: Great Source).

Abe and His Partners

Central to all the Abe Lieberman stories are three partnerships:

The most obvious is Lieberman’s partnership with fellow detective, Bill Hanrahan. In addition to the working relationship — which experiences many strains over the years — their long hours and trying times together bring ample opportunity for Lieberman, a Reform Jew with roots among the city’s aging Yiddish-speakers, and Hanrahan, an Irish Catholic with similar links to the city’s Catholic life, to share their thoughts on faith and the changing nature of religious community. Important to the story, “Confession,” is the pair’s long habit of referring to one another as “Rabbi” and “Father Murphy.”

Another working partnership is that between Lieberman and Emiliano “El Perro” Del Sol, leader of the Tentaculos street gang. While Del Sol and Hanrahan persist in mistrusting and disliking one another, El Perro shares with Lieberman — known as “El Viejo” [The Old One”] to gang members and their associates — a passionate love for the Cubs and a relationship, at turns touching and entertaining, which clearly benefits both men.

Throughout everything, however, is the delightful partnership between Lieberman and his wife Bess. Their partnership weathers his job and insomnia, their daughter’s marital unrest, guardianship of their grandchildren, deaths in the family and trials in their neighborhood and synagogue. The couple’s involvement with the Jewish community and, more specifically, with the beleaguered urban congregation, Temple Mir Shavot, enlivens their world; more than a simple plot device, their commitment to a Shabbat evening meal and the Friday evening service is a defining aspect of their characters and their relationship. In another author’s hands, the “Bess would not have approved of the muffin” routine might have grown old; Kaminsky, however, uses it to keep the spouses’ relationship present, even when the story keeps them largely apart.

Food and Family

Food is also a factor in nearly every other aspect of Lieberman’s days. His life unfolds in his kitchen — where he has late-night conversations with his grandchildren and daughter, as well as his wife — in his synagogue (where bagels and lox are on the menu but not his diet), and at the T&L Restaurant owned by his brother, Maish:

“Abe, we got ourselves a bitter irony. I’m older than you. I’m — let’s face it — fat. I get no exercise and I eat anything that looks good. No cholesterol problems. No heart problems. And you? You’re skinny. You run around a lot. You don’t have the opportunity to violate the laws of common sense as often as I do, surrounded by pastrami… And you, you are the one with the problem. If I was still on cordial relations with God, I’d thank him for my good fortune and ask him to continue to take care of my brother. Meanwhile, Bess and I have to do our best to save you. I have no great hope for your salvation.”
–p.30, The Dead Don’t Lie


I’m uncertain about the salvation question. But I know that I, like many readers, continue to care for Abe and his world. May his author’s name be for a blessing, and may Stuart Kaminsky’s many mourners be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

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Community, food, Judaism, mystery

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