In this deft, multilayered thriller, a disgraced lawyer trying to revive his tattered career stumbles across a hidden case of cold-blooded murder and discovers that he must pursue justice even though doing so might just cost him what little he has left-possibly even his life. Attorney David Hirsch was the managing partner of one of St. Louis's most prestigious law firms, until he was convicted of embezzlement and sent to the federal penitentiary for seven years. He emerges from prison humbled and genuinely contrite, eager to patch things up with his estranged daughter and to build up a modest legal practice. In forging his life afresh, Hirsch has rediscovered his Judaism and has become part of the daily minyan, the group of ten men necessary to pray together, at the synagogue near his home. When an elderly man in the group asks for his help with a product liability case involving his daughter's death, Hirsch reluctantly takes it on-only to discover that the seemingly straightforward lawsuit conceals a cold-blooded murder.
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February 27, 2006
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Excerpt from The Mourning Sexton by Michael Baron
Just before sunrise on a cold December weekday, the morning gabbai unlocks the front door of Anshe Emes. He steps inside the small foyer and turns on the light. Squinting in the sudden brightness, he unbuttons his overcoat. The gabbai is a tall handsome man in his late fifties with strong features, salt-and-pepper hair, and somber blue eyes.
He pauses in the main sanctuary to adjust the thermostat and continues along the back corridor to the small shul, the place of worship used for weekday services. He opens the door, turns on the light, and waits as the fluorescent tubes flicker overhead, making the contents of the room seem to jiggle. There are three rows of benches on either side of a narrow center aisle. Seating for eighteen, maybe twenty. He checks to make sure that there is a prayer book and a chumash in each of the slots along the backs of the seats and extras in the first row. A wide podium up front is draped with a blue felt cloth. It faces forward, or east, toward the small ark against the front wall. Mounted along the side walls are several heavy brass memorial plaques, each with two columns of names and a small commemorative light bulb next to each name, some turned on.
Along the north wall is a window facing the parking lot that the small synagogue shares with a 7-Eleven, a dry cleaner, and a Little Caesar's Pizza. The sky has begun to lighten. Through the window he watches a large Dodge pick-up pull into a spot in front of the 7-Eleven. Two construction workers step down from the pickup cab, each carrying a big plastic coffee mug, their breath vaporing in the cold air. Down in the synagogue basement, the furnace rumbles to life. He moves over to the window and closes the shades.
Back in the foyer, he hangs his coat on the rack and places his gray fedora on the shelf above it. Reflexively, his right hand moves to his head to check that his kippah is in place. In his left hand he holds a small blue velvet bag embroidered with gold Hebrew letters. He unzips the bag and removes his tallit. Unfurling the silk prayer shawl, he inspects the ends to make sure that none of the fringes is tangled. As he does this, he quietly recites the Hebrew prayer thanking God for commanding him to wrap himself in the garment. Holding the tallit by the collar, he kisses each end and places it over his shoulders.
Just then the front door opens. He turns as Hyman Kantor enters, his walking cane hooked over his forearm. Kantor is in his late seventies--strong nose, hawk eyes, bald head splotched with brown age spots, posture slightly hunched by age.
"Good morning, Mr. Kantor."
"And a good morning to you, Gabbai."
He waits for the question as he watches as the old man hangs up his coat and arranges his belongings.
Mr. Kantor turns to him. "Will we have a minyan today "
"There should be twelve."
Mr. Kantor nods, pleased. "Well done."
The gabbai smiles to himself. Mr. Kantor is the first to arrive each weekday morning, and each morning he asks the same question about the minyan, which is the quorum of ten Jewish men required to pray as a community and recite the mourner's Kaddish.