"The Mourning Sexton"
(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUN 12, 2005)
“Time moves in one direction only. It doesn’t slow down and it doesn’t circle back.”
St. Louis Attorney David Hirsch is the protagonist of The Mourning Sexton, a thoughtful, touching, and suspenseful legal thriller. Hirsch had it all--a privileged childhood, a degree from Harvard Law School, a job in a prestigious firm, a wife, and two beautiful daughters. What did he do with all his bounty? He embezzled money, slept around, used cocaine and alcohol liberally, and ended up serving seven years in Allenwood, a federal penitentiary. Upon his release, David has nothing--no family, no job, and no friends, except for his old pal, fellow attorney Seymour Rosenbloom.
David starts to rebuild his life slowly. He resumes practicing law under strict guidelines outlined by the Missouri Supreme Court. He also starts to attend synagogue, where he is known as the "mourning sexton," since it is his job to lead the elderly congregation in the saying of "kaddish," the prayer for the dead. When one of his fellow congregants, Abe Shifrin, asks David to look into the death of Abe's daughter, Judith, David is reluctant to get involved. Judith was a lawyer who died in a car accident three years earlier; it seems pointless to take action now. However, to please the old man, David files a wrongful death suit on Abe's behalf. While investigating the facts surrounding Judith's death, David is horrified to discover that this young woman may have been murdered.
David Hirsch is a terrific character. He is a man who threw away everything that was important to him, and instead of being bitter about it, he willingly takes the punishment that he knows he deserves. However, contact with some good people, including a rabbi in prison, has given David a glimmer of what he could be. His duties as a sexton in synagogue, his relationship with Seymour, who stood by him when no one else would, and his involvement in Judith's case all bring David a sense of purpose. He decides that there are certain things in life worth fighting for--among them, family, friends, justice, and self-respect.
Michael Baron's plot has some familiar elements, such as legal corruption, greed, and murder for hire. Naturally, our hero puts himself in danger while he searches for the truth behind Judith's death, and he even falls in love with a beautiful law professor. However, Baron keeps his book from merely degenerating into a series of clichés. He takes the time to flesh out the warm relationship between David and Seymour, and he skillfully shows David's growth from a man who merely exists into a real "mensch," a person of value. This book features witty, humorous, and entertaining dialogue, and a number of colorful characters, such as Jumbo Redding, an ex-con whose wizardry with computers helps David acquire vital information. Baron handles complex legal issues skillfully, and he keeps the reader guessing until the end. The Mourning Sexton is an absolute pleasure to read and I recommend it highly.
- Amazon readers rating: from 12 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from The Mourning Sexton at RandomHouse.com
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Mourning Sexton (April 2005)
The Rachel Gold series by Michael A. Kahn:
- Grave Designs (1988) (original published as Canaan Legacy)
- Death Benefits (1992)
- Firm Ambitions (1994)
- Due Diligence (1995)
- Sheer Gall (1996)
- Bearing Witness (2000)
- Trophy Widow (2002)
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- BookReporter.com review of The Mourning Sexton
- StL Today review of The Mourning Sexton
- Curled Up review of The Mourning Sexton
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About the Author:
Michael Baron is a pen name for Michael A Kahn, an award-winning author of several novels.
Kahn is a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School. He began his literary career writing free-lance feature articles for Chicago Magazine while teaching fifth grade in the Chicago public schools. He is now a trial attorney in St. Louis, Missouri and has been selected for inclusion in the current edition of The Best Lawyers in America, the definitive guide to legal excellence.