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Searching for a Nazi Collaborator - an Editorial Review of "Past Imperfect"

Book Blurb:

When his rabbi calls him after Yom Kippur, private eye Benjamin Gold thinks it’s just to yell at him for skipping services—but it’s even worse than that.

It turns out that Benny missed more than some prayers and a sermon: While everyone else was atoning for their sins, a fight broke out in synagogue when a visitor accused one of the leading members of the congregation of being a Nazi collaborator.

Is Mendel Kahn the upstanding benefactor of Cleveland’s Jewish community he seems to be? Is his real-estate fortune the product of ten years of hard work and good luck, or does his success have a more sinister origin? Is he even Mendel Kahn—or is he really Yitzhak Fried, who exploited and tortured his fellow Jews during the War?

As Gold digs into Kahn’s dark story, he learns that the man’s present is bad enough: he’s a slumlord, a gangster, and a sadist. He also doesn’t appreciate being investigated…and he has some large and dangerous friends. Can Benjamin Gold survive long enough to uncover the real story of Mendel Kahn’s past?

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Editorial Review:

“He said he and Mendel came from the same town in Poland. According to him, Mendel was part of the Jewish council that ran the ghetto and took bribes from families trying to protect their husbands and sons from forced labor. Later, there were bribes from families trying to avoid deportation to Auschwitz.”

“That’s pretty serious stuff,” I said after taking a deep breath.

“There’s more,” Herb continued. “The guy said that later, when Mendel showed up at the concentration camp, the Nazis made him a kapo.”

In the brisk autumn air of 1957 Cleveland, the afterglow of Yom Kippur surrenders to the ominous shadows cast by the probing eye of Benjamin Gold, a former lawyer now entrenched in the labyrinthine world of private investigation. Cohen’s “Past Imperfect” invites us into this gripping tale where Gold, at the behest of his rabbi, peers beneath the polished veneer of Mendel Khan, a revered figure within their congregation accused of an abhorrent past as Yitzhak Fried, a Nazi collaborator. In this tapestry of intricate human struggle and shadowy revelations, Cohen unfurls a narrative that resonates far beyond its pages.

Gold, our flawed yet resolute protagonist, embodies an enthralling dichotomy—a man scarred by his own wartime actions, a shattered marriage, and the comfort of Scotch-soaked nights. In a realm where heroes often stand untarnished, Gold emerges as a captivating figure, navigating the murky waters of truth with an unwavering resolve, unshackled by mere pecuniary pursuits. It is this resolve amid the trenches of addiction and depression, this tenacity, that propels the reader through a saga laden with authenticity, humor, and unforeseen twists, captivating even the most cynical of souls.

I tried not to make a habit out of counting my chickens, but I had the feeling Karen Sontag was going to bust the Kahn investigation wide-open. Forget trifling discoveries about his cousin and his tenements, his aversion to having his picture taken or his inability to distinguish between lessons on the violin or the piano. If someone affirmatively identified Kahn as Yitzhak Fried, it would corroborate the original allegations made against him on Yom Kippur. His reputation would instantly crater, and the Rabbi could depose him from the temple board without consequence.

Cohen masterfully unveils his protagonist, Gold, once more in a tapestry of intricate pursuit, embroiling the flawed yet noble detective in an arduous quest for justice. The author’s deft strokes intertwine the struggles of Holocaust survivors with the pulse of 1950s Cleveland, crafting a narrative that is at once labyrinthine and swift, with villains lurking amidst damsels teetering on the edge of distress. Yet, within this intricate web lies the enigmatic Khan, shrouded in mystery, guarding secrets that stretch the sinew of truth.

The heart of the narrative throbs with the relentless pursuit of Gold, a man ensnared in the warp and weft of his own emotional mire—entwined in a tempestuous affair and wrestling with the ghosts of his wartime and professional past. Cohen, with the grace of a master storyteller, sketches a suspense-laden odyssey amidst the backdrop of history, embellishing the story with layers of tension and intrigue.

The crux of our tale unfurls as Gold unfetters the truth, his determination akin to a bloodhound on a scent, driving the narrative toward its zenith. In exploring this pursuit, Cohen adroitly navigates the tumultuous terrain of a post-war Jewish community, painting a poignant canvas resonating with the echoes of trauma. However, within this historical vivisection, modern sensibilities may recoil at the anachronistic portrayal of women and Black characters, a stark reminder of bygone societal mores.

Beryl had given me the highlights of the story. Now I needed to get the details from her without blowing my cover or wearing out my welcome. I was optimistic about my chances. The wine seemed to have dulled the resistance I would’ve expected to my inquiries.

Nevertheless, within this tapestry of intricate shades, “Past Imperfect” emerges as an intimate enigma, embellished with a multifaceted protagonist who resonates as much with his tenacity as with his imperfections. Cohen crafts a tale that transcends the mere contours of a mystery, etching its essence upon the reader’s soul. It stands not just as a narrative but as an ode to the resilience of the human spirit, lingering in the echoes of truth that reverberate long after the final page is turned.


“Past Imperfect” by Joshua Cohen receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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