Oh for the days of yore when a mystery was challenging, sophisticated, and literary; when echoes of history resounded as the pages quietly rustled. Well, rejoice, mystery lovers, this young adult to adult detective tale, British to the bone, is redolent of Jane and her drawing room, Sherlock and his irregulars, Agatha and her sleuths, Oliver and his orphans, Napoleon and his armies, and maybe a touch of blood libel for good measure. There are poisonings, missing jewels, medical experiments, contested wills, reopened graves—not an element has been missed! Atmosphere abounds; suspense is palpable. Jewish detective Ezra Melamed, true to his name, once again wisely saves the day. This highly recommended page-turner is the third in a series which this reviewer hopes will have a long, healthy, and hearty run. -- Review by Michal Hoschander Malen
The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle Detective Ezra Melamed on the Case
The Disappearing Dowry by Libi Astaire. Zahav Press, 2009 The Ruby Spy Ring by Libi Astaire. Zahav Press, 2011 Tempest in the Tea Room by Libi Astaire. Aster Press, 2012
By Andrea Kempf
The Regency detective fiction of author Libi Astaire is great fun. Set in London during the Napoleonic Wars, Astaire creates the Jewish community, observant, aware of their precarious status in Great Britain, and totally in sync with the fashions, manners and mores of the Regency period. These three short novels are for anyone who loves Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, or who enjoys cleverly plotted mysteries dressed in period costumes.
The detective on the case in each novel is Ezra Melamed. He is not a detective, per se, but one of the pillars of the Jewish Community. Melamed is a wealthy widower who oversees many charitable agencies, and he is a man who believes it is his mission to protect the sanctity of Jewish London from the injustices often visited upon it by prejudiced, jealous, and just plain stupid individuals. The chronicler of each case is Rebecca Lyon, a young woman who is not quite of marriageable age. She describes each tale as a megillah, a story of a Jewish individual’s close encounter with disaster in which G-d and the skillful detection of Ezra Melamed rescue the person from harm at the last minute. Rebecca is an avid reader of novels and her overblown language mimics the prose one finds in the writing of Austen or Mrs. Ann Radcliffe. Another delightful quirk is the introduction of a group of Jewish orphans who happen to be gang of pickpockets. They are headed by the self-proclaimed Earl of Gravel Lane and his right hand man General Well’ngone. Despite Mr. Melamed’s best efforts these young boys refuse to give up their life of crime and come to the Jewish orphanage to be educated. However, in each novel, the Earl and his gang turn out to be useful in helping Melamed find the real culprits. It is also important to know that because Astaire is an observant Orthodox writer, there is no sex and no graphic violence in any of the books.
In The Disappearing Dowry Melamed is called upon to rescue the fortunes of Rebecca Lyon’s father and discover who stole the dowry he had accumulated for his daughter Hannah’s wedding. In The Ruby Spy Ring, a fashionable Jewish tailor is accused not only of smuggling but also of spying for the French. Finally, in The Tempest in the Tearoom an unexplained illness is sweeping through the Jewish community and a finger is pointed at a young doctor, newly arrived from Jamaica. In each book, Melamed cleverly unmasks the real criminal, usually with the assistance of the Earl of Gravel Lane, some clever reference he happens upon in the Talmud and advice from a Hasidic Rabbi whom his daughter and her husband follow. Thus, he brings each novel to a happy conclusion.
Libi Astaire lives and writes in Jerusalem; however, she grew up in Prairie Village. Her books are readily available on online and on Kindle, but not currently in many libraries. She is too good a writer to be overlooked.
Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.