Friday, January 10, 2014

"Between the Chicken Soup and the Schnecken"

By James Yaffe (b. 1927).
Crippen & Landru.
1997. 174 pages.
Probably one of the most offbeat detectives to appear in fiction:
This modern version of the armchair detective story ["Mom in the Spring," 1954] is as impressive as the old traditional ones of Christie and Boucher and Orczy. Meticulously plotted, ingenious building up of the puzzle, fairly presented clues, thought provoking questions posed by Mom to her son who is presenting the case to her over dinner, Mom's supreme capability of reading between the lines and unraveling of the puzzle plot with her deep insight into the human nature to reveal an entirely different aspect to the case which was hitherto camouflaged—all add up for a most interesting read. — Arun Kumar, THE INGENIOUS GAME OF MURDER (March 3, 2012)
[James] Yaffe's fiction is filled with careful deductive work. Each story has a series of questions asked by Mom, wherein she uses her growing understanding of the crime to make guesses about the crime's circumstances. These passages are virtuosic. The end of the story shows Mom going over clues embedded in the tale. Yaffe shows an inventiveness in coming  up with these. It is a full measure of puzzle plot mystery. . . . Most . . . EQMM [Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine] authors [such as Yaffe] wrote very pure armchair detective tales. One or more people would bring a problem to the detective character, who would then ask a few questions, then immediately solve the case. There would be no lapse of time, and the detective would not send the other characters out to do further sleuthing. Furthermore, the solution would be very carefully based on reasoning about the crime. Deduction would reign supreme. — Mike Grost, A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION ("James Yaffe")
James Yaffe, right, with one half of "Ellery Queen."
Mom never wanted her son Dave to become a policeman. "For all the brains it takes, believe me, you might as well be in business with your uncles." Besides, "All those gangsters and dope fiends and bookies and hatchet murderers and other such goniffs; isn't it possible you could get hurt some day?" It's not difficult to solve crimes, Mom explains—and it's certainly not for her. 
Dave and his very superior, Wellesley-educated wife, Shirley, have dinner with Mom in the Bronx every Friday evening. Between the chicken soup and the schnecken, Dave talks about his current cases. Mom is not interested in what she describes as sophie-ological analysis and psycho-annihilating the suspects, but her long experience in dealing with scheming butchers, nosey neighbors, and eccentric relatives leads her to a logical solution to all Dave's mysteries. "By yourself, you should've guessed it," Mom says, but it takes Mom's insight into personality to unravel the crime. 
Thirty years ago, Ellery Queen wrote that it was "sure as death and 'tectives" that a collection of Mom short stories would appear. Witty, wise, and filled with warmth, the Mom tales are some of the finest armchair detective stories ever written. — Cover blurb for My Mother, the Detective (1997)
The armchair detective of this book has no name. She is just called "Mom" by her son, David, a police detective of New York Homicide Squad. David regularly visits Mom with his wife, Shirley. At the dinner table, he talks about the murder cases he hasn't solved yet. Mom just listens to her son's stories, asks several questions and brilliantly solves the cases.
Excellently plotted mysteries. Every small piece fits neatly like a fine jig-saw puzzle. What is more, Mom's reasoning is backed up by her deep insight of human beings. She reveals people's weakness, foolishness, sadness and so on. That adds . . . depth and warmth. The stories . . . mainly consist [of] dialogue and [are] very easy to read, but they are deep and impressive. — APRICOT "ryoko"

Category: Detective fiction

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