I need a good mystery to balance out the imagination in my other stories, and frankly, the unmitigated disaster that is normal life. The mysteries I read provide a conflict, problem-solving, solution, and resolution in a neat little package, and Lieberman’s Folly is no exception. I have a dim memory of reading Kaminsky back in the 90s and enjoying it, but somehow losing track of the series (back in the days when the library didn’t have the stellar interlibrary loan system they have now). Pandemic means time to find/rediscover new reads, and I look forward to working my way through the next nine books in this one.
The story starts off with some quick, bloody background from 1970 when member of a crime organization cut ties and came to America to parlay his gains into a fortune. Unfortunately, two of his long-term prostitutes have their eyes on his money.
Flash forward to the 1980s Chicago where Detective Abe Lieberman is meeting with his partner, Bill Hanrahan and their informant, Estralda, who is looking for a little protection. It’ll mean some time outside normal working hours, but Bill agrees to keep an eye on her while Abe attends Shabbat and works on some family issues. Trouble is, Bill’s been hitting the bottle especially hard, so Abe isn’t entirely sure how dependable he is.
“Detective William Hanrahan had grunted, smiled, and shook his head no. This morning Hanrahan glowed with confidence, his cheeks pink, his usually unkempt dark hair cut short and brushed back… His short-sleeved blue shirt was soaked through with sweat, but his tie was neatly pressed. Hanrahan was working extra hard today to convince himself, his partner, and the world that he didn’t need a drink.”
Like all P.I. stories, the city plays an important role in the story. Chicago is in flux, with immigrant shift in the neighborhoods that Lieberman and Hanrahan grew up in, and reflections of both on the changes. Religion and economics of the working and poverty classes are also mentioned and are particularly relevant to characters nicknamed ‘the Rabbi’ and ‘the Father’ by each other and their peers because of their ethnic heritage (neither are particularly devout).
There’s some interesting humor the story, particularly in Abe’s deadpan reactions:
“‘Tell me why I didn’t know you two were staking out this building. Tell me who gave you an OK to give protection to a known prostitute… I don’t known what’s going on and my men fucked up.’
‘It’s a great load to bear,’ Lieberman said seriously.
‘What’s that? Hassidic humor?’ Hughes said, straightening his tie. ‘Don’t play games with me, Abe. You know who lives in this goddamn building?’
‘One less person than an hour ago,’ said Lieberman looking back into the room.”
It takes some getting used to, because it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, just a kind of mordant approach to life. Still, I found it really worked, and it makes Lieberman a particularly unique character. I enjoyed the language and found a lot of the phrasing was stellar.
At only 216 pages, it goes quickly. It means Kaminsky is rather fast with plots and back-stories/side-stories. However, he still managed to surprise me, once emotionally and once with a twist, so extra applause. I can’t wait to continue on to the next book, although there’s a few books in the way (darn you, Koli!)