Date with a Dead Doctor by Toni Brill
Synopsis & Review: Midge “Call me Margaret!” Cohen, a former Russian professor turned children’s book author, has been through way too many set-ups thanks to her mother. Since divorcing her veterinarian husband Paul and moving from Ithaca back to New York, Midge has made an enjoyable life for herself, hammering out two girl’s summer camp mysteries and occasionally sleeping with her super, a Russian emigre named Sasha. And even though her mother’s set-ups always go wrong, when called late on a Saturday evening by one Dr Leon Skripnik, urologist, Midge reluctantly agrees to see him. Only as it turns out, he’s only interested in her Russian translation skills. But Midge needn’t hurry, because Leon Skripnik is found dead in his brownstone the next day.
Anxious to turn over Skripnik’s letter, from an elderly relative arriving from Israel in the next few days, Midge tries to reach his ex-wife Phyllis, and is instead mistaken for Skripnik’s mistress. But by the time she convinces Phyllis that she wasn’t in fact Skripnik’s mistress, Midge has become a person of interest as the last person to see Skripnik alive. Of course, with the gorgeous Detective Russo on the case, that might not be so bad. Then undiscovered Chagalls pop up, and yet more Russians, and when combined with Midge’s meddling mother and the sobbing, neurotic Phyllis, things are beginning to get a little out of Midge’s control.
Is there such a thing as a New York Jew Cozy genre of mystery? I’m not a big fan of mysteries–especially of the cozy variety–and never really have been. I pretty much never read them, unless they’re by Cornell Woolrich or, um, Dick Francis. (Yes, for some odd reason, I read several Dick Francis’ when I was a kid. Maybe it was the horse connexion, I don’t know. Oh, and I did read a metric crapton of the Cat Who books in elementary school.) But I like Date with a Dead Doctor well enough. Midge is fun, she does neat stuff (Russian! writing YA mysteries! living on her own in New York!). She’s not gorgeous and no one takes her very seriously–other than her mother. She seems like she’d be fun to hang out with, and her perceptions of Russian emigres and the Jewish communities in New York are interesting.
I don’t recall the second Midge Cohen book (Date with a Plummeting Publisher) being very good, which is a shame. I first read this one around thirteen, and it’s stayed in my library for those (very) rare occasions when I feel like a visit to cozy Brooklyn.
Read also: The Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun, Proof by Dick Francis
Cover: Really excellent, a Chagall-esque rendering of key plot elements in the novel. The text clutters it a bit, though.
By the time we were finally deposited in front of Tennenbaum and Levy, Counselors to the Bereaved, my mother had me nearly convinced that we had come to mourn Dr Albert Schweitzer Skripnik, and not merely my chance to land a urologist. Tennenbaum and Levy looked like a miniature of those wedding palaces out on Sheepshead Bay, the kind of place that can feed four hundred Italians in one room and three hundred Jews in another, cannolis in one dessert cart, babka ont he other, an open bar, roast beef cart, twenty-eight people with video cam-corders in both, a big curved driveway out front lined with symmetrical little fir shrubs set among blinding white marble chips, where hordes of sparrows pick at the rice that gets thrown at brides and grooms, who depart with about the regularity–and individuality–of the Trump Shuttle. Since funerals don’t usually draw the crowds that weddings do, Tennenbaum and Levy was about one third the scale, a short curved driveway up to a canopy, velvet and brass ropes directing us through the heavy carved doors of the flagstone-fronted building, where we were met by a lugubrious attendant in a morning coat, whom I half expected to say, “Bride’s side or groom’s?”
30 October – 02 November