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July 3, 2015 / 16 Tammuz, 5775
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Title: The Mourning Sexton

Title: The Mourning Sexton
Author: Michael Baron
Publisher: Doubleday Publishing, New York, N.Y.

 

 

The protagonist in this engrossing murder mystery, David Hirsch, is an attorney who has served eight years in federal prison for his white-collar crimes, including phony billing charges to many of his former clients.

Following his return from incarceration, Hirsch did teshuvah and tried to set his life back in order. In the opening scene of “The Mourning Sexton,” Hirsch is now the gabbai of a shul in St. Louis, Missouri. His return to the Yiddishkeit of his childhood marks the ethical and moral base of the new man he has become and the start of Hirsch’s redemption.

One morning after services Hirsch is approached by one of the congregants and asked to handle a “wrongful death” lawsuit – Abe Shifrin’s only daughter Judith, who had been a legal secretary to a prominent judge, was killed in an automobile accident almost three years earlier. The three-year statute of limitations is near, and needing “closure,” the old man wants those responsible to pay – and apologize for causing Judith’s death.

In most “whodunits,” the readers spend most of their efforts on guessing who the responsible party is, but in this murder mystery, we very quickly learn not only who did it and how. We just don’t know why.

In this binding and suspenseful novel, “David” wrestles with the system controlled by a powerful judge – the “Goliath” in the story – in order to bring him down and help bring final closure to the short life of the talented young legal clerk who met her Angel of Death prematurely.

In the process, Hirsch enlists the aid of Judith’s former law professor – Adelaide Lorenz – who operates a law clinic that occupies a former chicken market in St. Louis’s old Jewish section. Without giving anything away, not only does a love interest bloom between them but Adelaide assists in David’s final redemption – his reconciliation with his daughter Lauren – their relationship having been significantly disrupted several years earlier due to his incarceration.

Is the Jewishness injected into this story merely to add some flavor for jaded murder mystery lovers or was it a necessary part of the plot? I can’t really tell, but it’s real and authentic, just like the “lawyering” and “courtroom antics” that makes it obvious that an actual attorney wrote this entertaining and absorbing novel.

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