Title: Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death
Author: Mark Reutlinger
Genre: Cozy Mystery/Humor
Everyone knows that Rose Kaplan makes the best matzoh ball soup around—she’s a regular matzoh ball maven—so it’s no surprise at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors when, once again, Mrs. K wins the honor of preparing the beloved dish for the Home’s seder on the first night of Passover. But when Bertha Finkelstein is discovered facedown in her bowl of soup, her death puts a bit of a pall on the rest of the seder. And things go really meshugge when it comes out that Bertha choked on a diamond earring earlier stolen from resident Daisy Goldfarb. Suddenly Mrs. K is the prime suspect in the police investigation of both theft and murder. Oy vey—it’s a recipe for disaster, unless Rose and her dear friend Ida can summon up the chutzpah to face down the police and solve the mystery themselves.
[T]he reason I’m telling you this is so you’ll understand about the matzoh balls. Other people might want to be the champion at hitting baseballs, throwing footballs, or bouncing basketballs, but Mrs. K only cares to be the best at one thing, and that is matzoh balls. Not throwing or hitting them, of course, just making them. For matzoh ball soup, that is. Here at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors, 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. If you have ever had the pleasure, you know that a matzoh ball can be light and fluffy like a cloud or dense and heavy like a rock. The first kind falls apart in the soup before you can eat it, and the second sits in your stomach like a pig on a plate, going nowhere. Ah, but Mrs. K, she makes a wonderful matzoh ball, light enough to digest without dissolving like an Alka-Seltzer. What’s not to like?
So every year just before Pesach, we have a little contest here at the Home. Everyone who thinks they make a nice matzoh ball soup is given a chance to make a batch for the rest of us to try, and then we vote: a secret vote, of course—we have to live with each other afterward, no?—on whose is the best, and the winner makes the matzoh ball soup for our seder that year. It may seem to you that it’s no great prize to have to do all that work and make matzoh balls for almost a hundred residents, but I assure you it is a great honor; and besides, what else have we to do here at the Home that is so important we can’t find time to prepare a few matzoh balls? As you might have guessed, Mrs. K almost always wins this contest—she is a real matzoh ball maven—and it is therefore her matzoh ball soup that usually is served at the Home on Pesach. This year was no exception, and Mrs. K again had the good fortune to be the winner.
As you will see, however, the devil should have such good fortune.
. . .
Finally everyone went back to their tables and their soup, which fortunately came from the kitchen very hot and was still quite warm. The rabbi completed his brief remarks thanking Mrs. K, who was as usual both pleased and a bit uncomfortable, as she doesn’t like to be the center of attention. There was a hum of low voices and then the polite slurping of soup, not to mention quite a bit of much louder slurping. It seems to me the older we get, the louder we eat. And everything seemed fine until someone behind us shouted, “Oh, my God, Mrs. Finkelstein has fallen into her soup!” And indeed, when we all looked over to where Bertha Finkelstein was sitting by herself, she was definitely lying face down in her soup bowl.
And while it is true that at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors not everyone is a neat and tidy eater, we knew that no one of Bertha Finkelstein’s impeccable manners would think of eating her soup—much less Mrs. K’s delicious matzoh ball soup—from the bottom up, so to speak. There was definitely something very wrong with poor Mrs. Finkelstein.
. . .
What was wrong with Mrs. Finkelstein was that she was dead.
Now I should explain, for the benefit of those who might not have much experience with establishments like the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors, that one of our residents suddenly becoming deceased would not be such a strange or, unfortunately, uncommon occurrence. While we know that death comes to us all at our appointed time, the appointments for the residents of the Home are necessarily somewhat sooner and shorter than for the general population. Nevertheless, this was the first time that a resident, and especially one with Bertha Finkelstein’s sense of propriety, had departed by way of their bowl of chicken soup, so you can imagine that it caused more than the usual stir.
Poor Bertha Finkelstein, who was now as far as it was possible to be from the life of the party, was carried back to her room by members of the staff, and after a decent interval the seder resumed, although the humming and the slurping were decidedly subdued. Dr. Arnold Menschyk, the physician on call at the Home, was summoned immediately, as was Mr. Pupik, the general manager, who had chosen to have dinner at his home, which was typical of the shlemiel, but that’s another story. They looked like Mutt and Jeff standing there: tall skinny Dr. Menschyk, with the frizzy hair going in all directions, and short, dumpy Mr. Pupik, with hardly any hair at all.
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 at the Home. And a resident who expires in her soup is just the sort of thing that he might call “disorderly.” But there it was, and so he and Dr. Menschyk disappeared into Bertha Finkelstein’s room, closed the door, and left us to continue without her. And to be honest, some of the residents left their soup uneaten, just in case it might have figured in Bertha’s demise. This did not go unnoticed by Mrs. K, and she was a little hurt by the implication regarding her matzoh ball soup.
Can you blame her?
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Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death is a light-hearted cozy mystery, a fast and easy read, and the perfect book for an afternoon on the porch or at the beach. In addition to discovering how Rose Kaplan and her best friend Ida (a senior-citizen Holmes and Watson duo) solve the mystery of the woman who expired face down in her chicken soup, the reader learns a bit about the celebration of Passover, as well as a few good Yiddish curses along the way.
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MARK REUTLINGER, Professor of Law Emeritus at Seattle University, is the author of the “Mrs. Kaplan” cozy mystery series. (The other books in the series, Oy Vey, Maria! and A Pain in the Tuchis, will be published on October 27th and next January 12th, respectively.) He has also written the political thrillers Made in China and Sister-in-Law: Violation, Seduction, and the President of the United States (the latter under the pseudonym M. R. Morgan), and the caper mystery Murder with Strings Attached. Mark’s hobbies include tennis, biking, playing the clarinet (he plays in the Tacoma (WA) Concert Band), model railroading, and various arts and crafts. He and his wife, Analee, live in University Place, Washington.
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