Chanukah Guilt is the title of Rabbi Illene Schneider’s first cozy mystery. The heroine is a female rabbi whose persistence in seeking answers about the supposed suicide of a young woman leads to the discovery of a double murder.
The Chanukah connection is an artificial overlay to the story and other than being “cute” due to the fact that Guilt almost sounds like Gelt, the title has nothing to do with the story.
The main character is a twice-divorced female rabbi who heads up a small congregation in southern New Jersey. We learn a great deal about Rabbi Cohen’s likes and dislikes, about her relationships with her sister and her mother, and by an unlikely coincidence meet one of her ex-husbands when he’s appointed acting police chief of the town in which Cohen lives.
Introducing all these details makes for slow going at times. One wishes her editor had explained to Rabbi Schneider the downside of falling in love with one’s protagonist. Not only does it slow things down but it detracts from the main story. Case in point is the discovery of a video of someone visiting the suicide shortly before her death. Schneider introduces evidence that the visitor brought the vodka and pills that were the cause of death, but then fails to follow up on those facts.
I read the second edition of Chanukah Guilt, to which Schneider add an alternate ending and asks the readers which one we prefer. When an author isn’t confident how to end her story, why should we figure it out for her?
Despite the awards her writing has garnered, Chanukah Guilt didn’t make me want to try any of Schneider’s subsequent novels. However, if you are a fan of cozy mysteries and enjoy learning how 50-something female rabbis manage their congregations and solve crimes at the same time, you may want to give Schneider’s novels a try.