I chose to read Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death by Mark Reutlinger partially because I laughed myself silly when I read the title. I’m one of those people who has always considered chicken soup with matzoh balls to be the best cure-all in the world. How ironic to make a matzoh ball an instrument of death, although some certainly seem heavy enough. I also chose it because Mrs. Kaplan is a resident of a retirement home and those of you who have been following my web site know mom is now in assisted living. I’m relatively sure mom is getting up to all kinds of shenanigans there, as does Mrs. Kaplan. If you like humorous cozy mysteries like those featuring Miss. Marple then this new take on them might really appeal to you.
Mrs. Rose Kaplan and her good friend Ida, both in their mid-seventies, live in the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors. Every year there’s a contest to see who can prepare the best matzoh ball soup for the Passover Seder and almost every year Mrs. Kaplan wins the secret voting ballot because everyone says her matzoh balls are to die for, although they don’t mean that literally. All of that is about to change though because this year right in the middle of the Seder, Bertha Finkelstein takes a nose dive right into her bowl of delicious soup.
“…we take our matzoh ball soup very seriously, especially on Pesach – that’s maybe Passover to you – and no one makes matzoh balls like Mrs. K…she makes a wonderful matzoh ball, light enough to digest without dissolving like an Alka-Seltzer. What’s not to like?”
“It’s an old joke that every Jewish holiday has the same theme: ‘They tried to kill us, they failed, now let’s eat.’ Okay, so maybe on Yom Kippur we skip the last part and we fast, but we make up for it on Pesach, a holiday where eating is not only allowed but required.”
Now death in a retirement home is nothing unusual and everyone at first thinks it was a heart attack, but it wasn’t. It is definitely not normal for the person who dies to have an earring lodged in their throat. Could Mrs. Kaplan have dropped one of her earrings into the soup by mistake or on purpose? What a horrifying thought! It’s not, however, Mrs. Kaplan’s earring but a very expensive earring belonging to Daisy Goldfarb, an earring she had reported stolen.
Mrs. Kaplan is outraged that her delicious soup is being blamed for Bertha’s untimely death and she’s incensed at not only being implicitly accused of murdering poor Bertha on purpose or by accident. Furthermore, she’s outraged that anyone would think she would steal anything. The very idea! When it becomes clear that Mr. Pupik, the home’s nasty administrator, is jumping to all the wrong conclusions and leading the police to do the same thing, Mrs. Kaplan and Ida have no choice but to try to clear Mrs. Kaplan’s name by finding out what really happened.
“Now Pupik is one who likes to run what he calls a ‘tight ship,’ and he dislikes anything that upsets the orderly flow of activities…And a resident who expires in her soup is just the sort of thing that he might call ‘disorderly.’”
“’What happened next is Pupik then holds up Daisy’s earring and he says, She choked on this earring, which we believe was in the soup or one of the matzoh balls. Your soup or one of your matzoh balls – he emphasizes the your – and then he puts it down and he just looks at me, and they both look at me, as if I could explain how this could happen. But I am just trying to take in what they said, and I am having a lot of trouble in the taking.’…
’Mr. Pupik,’ Mrs. K finally continued, ‘He asked me if I could explain how one of Daisy Goldfarb’s diamond earrings came to be in my matzoh ball soup. Well, of course I cannot explain it. I don’t even believe it, but he seemed convinced of it.’
‘That Mr. Pupik would believe the worst of anyone,’ I [Ida] replied,…”
But how can two elderly ladies, who have a hard enough time just bending over to tie their shoes, catch a thief and killer without ending up like poor Bertha? Well, it helps that everyone underestimates women of a certain age and appearance – but that’s the only clue I’m going to give you.
Rose Kaplan and Ida are very determined women, and Rose is one smart cookie who is still sharp as a tack despite her little old lady act. They make two delightfully bumbling amateur detectives. They might be slow physically and ramble quite a bit when talking but, otherwise, there actually is no bumbling involved. They’re methodical and thorough – far more so than the young whipper snappers dealing with the case. They’re also an excellent lesson in not underestimating your canny elders. The picture painted of the retirement home also seems spot on. People are still people when they live in a retirement home and they still get up to all kinds of mischief there, including romance and pranks. And they use society’s mistaken impressions of the elderly to get away with…well, you know.
I thoroughly enjoyed Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death because I could see just that kind of sleuthing and spying happening at mom’s assisted living home – and she’d probably be the ring leader or at least right in the middle of it. I laughed a lot as I read things that rang only too true. I should warn you, however, that this is a slow-paced novel. Also, the dialogue seems to travel in a rambling manner before reaching its point. If you’ve been around the elderly very much, you know they travel physically and sometimes mentally at a slower pace (sometimes it seems almost snail-like) and everything told has a story attached. Because that rang true and lent an undercurrent of authenticity to the story, I forgave the slower pace even though it made me a little nuts at times just like it does in real life.
At $2.99, this is a fun, quick, bargain e-book read, which I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I did. I definitely recommend it if you now have or have had parents or grandparents in a retirement home or assisted living.
Can’t wait to read it?
Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death will be published on November 18, 2014, so it’s available for pre-order from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). Please note: This is an e-book only so you download it instantly to read on your favorite device! It’s also a bargain at only $2.99.
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