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A Cold Killing
By Mel Goldberg
Rolemi Publishers, 2010, 118 Pages
Available locally at Diane Pearl Colecciones and at Coffee y Bagels
Reviewed by James Tipton
Lakeside author Mel Goldberg has penned and now published a collection of eight murder mysteries done in classic style, usually opening with the discovery of a body (“Something terrible has happened in compartment 35”), followed by clues that too obviously lead to a particular suspect, followed by clues which themselves become suspect, until the careful protagonist uncovers overlooked clues that suddenly establish beyond doubt the villain.
Classic murder mysteries follow this formula, and it is a formula that has appealed to sophisticated readers for almost two hundred years. With good reason. In addition to the basic elements of a good story—situation, complication, resolution—the mystery novel tickles at the intellect, drawing us into “figuring it out” on our own. The genre was propelled into high popularity by Arthur Conan Doyle with his creation of the Sherlock Holmes stories (56 short stories and four novelettes between 1887 and 1927).
Mel Goldberg’s protagonist, Aaron Guerevich, attended the Schechter Jewish Day School in Chicago, studied Hebrew, considered the Yeshiva (advanced studies in Jewish thought), and is familiar with books like Maimonides Guide of the Perplexed. As a young man, he decided “I could honor my mitzvot [Mosaic law] better as a cop than as a student.” In the eight stories in A Cold Killing, Guerevich is a detective working for the police department in Scottsdale, Arizona. Guerevich’s attention to details, particularly details that others pass by, has made him the man to call.
Detective heroes who go it alone, though, are usually less interesting to us than detective heroes who have companions…who come to their aid with new ideas, who are sounding boards, and sometimes a lot more. The detective-and-the-companion allows the author to develop the story through dialogue…and then we as readers listen in.
Thus, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has his Dr. John Hamish Watson (“Watson,” with whom he shares a flat); John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee has his analytical Dr. Meyer (“Just ‘Meyer,’ please”); Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot has his easily fooled (but lovable) companion Arthur Hasting; and Mel Goldberg’s Detective Aaron Guerevich has his (not so easily fooled, but very lovable), fiancée, Ann Berendt, “a forensic scientist who studied in Edinborough and London. Ann is able to dig up information and perform laboratory tests, but she is also able to point out to Guerevich, after a pleasurable time in bed, that he has whipped cream in his ear.
Like all fine mystery writers who follow “the formula,” Goldberg wisely offers us lots of “variations on a theme,” so that rather than tire of one similar story after another we are instead eager to plunge into the next story, not at all similar to the preceding one.