The Schmooze

What Makes a Jewish Private Eye?

A Star of David carved into the chest of a murdered journalist signals this is no ordinary crime. Which means Jonah Geller, the world-weary private investigator hired by the victim’s family in “Miss Montreal,” is the right man for the job.

A Jewish atheist as tough as he’s sharp, Geller is the creation of Howard Shrier, a Montreal-born, Toronto-based writer who shares more than a little of Jonah’s DNA. After forays to Chicago and Boston, the third Jonah Geller mystery takes the investigator to Montreal, where a childhood friend has been brutally slain. The city’s French/English and Arab/Jewish tensions take center stage in the book, which beautifully evokes Montreal’s complex cultural textures — and nails the city through deeply etched characters and locations.

Shrier, who now teaches writing at University of Toronto, spoke to The Arty Semite from his home.

Michael Kaminer: What does a Jewish private investigator bring to the genre that, say, a Presbyterian PI wouldn’t?

Howard Shrier: Were I Presbyterian, I’d be writing books from that point of view. Were I Irish Catholic, like Dennis Lehane or Ken Bruen, I might have made my PI a tortured drinker. But my world view, my voice — Jonah’s voice — are what I have to offer. I don’t think a non-Jewish hero would have a voice like his, and I doubt a non-Jewish writer could create a consistent Jewish hero like him.

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What Makes a Jewish Private Eye?

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