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Pastrami and Rye, and Andy Weinberger’s debut novel on the side

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Andy Weinberger is known around town as owner of Sonoma’s well-visited Readers’ Books. Soon he will also be known as author of the new novel, “An Old Man’s Game: An Amos Parisman Mystery.”

The story is set in Los Angeles. Parisman, a private eye, is brought out of retirement by a local synagogue’s board of directors when their controversial rabbi drops dead over his matzo ball soup at the renowned Canter’s Deli. The rabbi’s death is initially ruled an accident. That is, until Parisman discovers things are not as kosher as they seem. He uncovers a world of treachery that threatens to undermine the very core of L.A.’s Jewish community.

What better place to start an L.A. story than Canter’s Deli? The world- famous restaurant founded in 1931 is open 24/7 and frequented by many show business personalities.

“We lived about six blocks away,” Weinberger said, having grown up in Southern California. “I went there from time to time. I’d have fried matzo for breakfast, pastrami and rye for lunch. Not on the same day, of course.”

Of his protagonist sleuth, Weinberger begins by pointing out, “All Jews have opinions. And Amos is no different.

“He lives life by the seat of his pants. And he’s funny,” said Weinberger. “He’s like Philip Marlowe meets Larry David.”

Weinberger, 73, is no stranger to Parisman’s L.A. stomping grounds. He grew up in Pasadena. Encouraged by his older brother and parents, he became an avid early reader. “I was drawn to Albert Camus, ‘The Plague’ and ‘The Stranger,’ Sartre, though I didn’t understand a lot of his writing, and the French author Marguerite Duras.” He also wrote poetry. “It helped attract the girls,” he said.

The University of New Mexico’s highly regarded poetry department drew him there. “My father expected me to be a doctor, lawyer or an accountant — something respectable. Poet wasn’t on the list.” Weinberger majored in Chinese history. That wasn’t part of the family plan either. “I enjoyed reading history. And I’m a storyteller. That’s what history’s all about.”

Back in L.A, Weinberger decided to try his hand at writing a novel. And that he did: four in fact. A publisher read one of the manuscripts and told him the story needed to be 30,000 words longer. “I thought about it,” Weinberger said. “Seemed to me that would be like adding another leg the baby didn’t need.” So he wrote a different novel. This time, the comment, “Where’s the sex, drugs and rock and roll?” That was in 1980.

“By then I’d had enough of fiction. Besides I had a wife, two kids and a mortgage,” said Weinberger. “I had to get a day job.”

Weinberger and his wife Lilla founded Readers’ Books in 1991. The bookstore newsletter, with Weinberger’s pithy, often humorous, thought-provoking essays has many fans. The best of 15 years of those essays was compiled into a book, “The Ugly Man Sits in the Garden: Pieces of a Life.” It was released in 2016.

“My return to fiction is Lilla’s fault,” Weinberger said. ”When she took a job in L.A., I went with her and found myself sitting in an apartment building on the ninth floor with nothing to do. So I started writing.” And write he did. In two and a half years, not only did he finish “An Old Man’s Game,” he completed three more books in the Amos Parisman series. “My writing is about characters, more so than plot,” Weinberger said. “I have to care about characters and what happens to them. I want readers to care about them, too.”

The second book in the series is planned for release in 2020. That novel’s about a singer in a klezmer band. When she goes missing, Parisman steps in to solve the mystery. Weinberger brings an insider’s knowledge to the story. He’s a musician and played guitar in a klezmer band – klezmer’s a Jewish folk music that originated in Eastern Europe. There’s often a piano, sax, violin, clarinet, guitar and accordion. It’s performed at celebrations — weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs.

Weinberger jokingly blames Lilla for getting him back into writing fiction. Readers of “An Old Man’s Game: An Amos Parisman Mystery” will thank her for making that happen. Lilla Weinberger died this past March at age 77. The book is dedicated to her.

The launch for “An Old Man’s Game” is Friday, Nov. 29 at 5 p.m. at Readers’ Books. There will be a reception with magic tricks preformed by Weinberger’s son Tobias, a reading by Weinberger and a Q&A.

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