Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Thoughts on a book: The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Happy to admit that I picked up this book on its cover alone because I liked its retro feel and I imagined a sort of Dick Tracy narrative that would be easy to read. Since I was due to spend a few days recuperating, I also thought it wouldn't tax the post-anaesthetic brain too much either. Wrong on both counts.
The detective is Meyer Landsman. He's obsessive, addicted and driven. He carries the weight of his failed marriage, his lost son, his dead father, his dead sister.............and he lives in a hotel room that you can almost smell. One night a man is found murdered in another room and the night manager calls Landsman to take a look
Landsman puts on his trousers and shoes and hitches up his suspenders. Then he and Tenenboym turn to look at the doorknob, where a necktie hangs, red with a fat maroon stripe, already knotted to save time. Landsman has eight hours to go until his next shift. Eight rat hours, sucking at his bottle, in his glass tank lined with wood shavings. Landsman sighs and goes for the tie. He slides it over his head and pushes the knot up to his collar. He puts on his jacket, feels for the wallet and shield in the breast pocket, pats the sholem he wears in a holster under his arm, a chopped Smith and Wesson Model 39.
"I hate to wake you, Detective," Tenenboym says. "Only I noticed you don't really sleep."
"I sleep," Landsman says. He picks up the shot glass that he is currently dating, a souvenir of the World's Fair of 1977. "Its just that I do it in my underpants and shirt."
....and that's where it all gets tricky because the vocabulary is rapidly filling with words I dont know, that I've never heard, that are clearly part of the Jewish patois. Before long I am absorbed in the culture of a jewish community in Alaska, a product of post-war migration I know nothing about until now. The plot is, in the end, deceptively simple but bound up in so much Jewish tradition, suspicion and hierarchy that I am lost.
For several days I have picked the book up and read a chapter or more, then once more put it aside, only to pick it up again because I want to know the end. Finally I got a rug, a pot of tea, curled up with the cat and decided to read to the end....Landsman is dogged and determined. The murder of the rabbe's son will be unraveled, the mystery of the chess game will be solved, Landsman's miserable life will be re-shaped. There are some of the usual plot steps: a feared policeman in another jurisdiction that turns out to be an old friend, a partner's loyalty in the face of overwhelming opposition, heavy-handed FBI. At the end, Landsman solves the myteries by reaching a calm space with his ex-wife that allows him to rethink the evidence and look again at what he could have seen the first time.
Now for something different........