Barbara Green

Near Kin: Study / Reflection Questions

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Find here questions that might be helpful as you proceed with this book, especially if you are using it in a class or with a group.  The first set of questions is more general, and the second follows the story along in more detail.  If you are interested in the fact that this book (and the series in which it appears) is using biblical plots, you might re-read the Book of Ruth.


General questions

Part One

As you hear about the library art exhibit and then watch it being installed (as you hang out with Brendan and Charles), do you have concerns about its security, or were you completely surprised to learn of the theft?


What characters that you meet in this first part appeal to you, and why? 


Part Two

Brendan seems to think that the main way to progress is to understand how the theft occurred.  Do you think he is right about this, or would you proceed differently?


What is your sense of the significance of the Jewish autumn holiday season to the development of the plot?


Part Three


A good deal of this mystery revolves around family (“near kin”) ties and obligations, ways in which family and friends feel eager and/or obliged to help each other out.  It is sometimes legal and official, though most often looser than that.  How would you trace the ways in which such relationships are working in this part of the story?


If you know what a red herring is, are you spotting some in this story (clues which seem promising but peter out, thus more of a distraction than a help).  What is their function?


Part Four

As pieces of the mystery begin to fall together usefully, much of what is operative is identities.  Whose identity is clear, and whom do you not know well that perhaps you thought you did?  How would you answer that question for Brendan?  What has he been blind to so far, and how is he getting a keener eye?


Are you surprised by any of Jacob Millstein’s news?  How so?







More detailed questions


Part One


1.  If you are not familiar with the Bible passage in dispute in this Hebrew language class, take a look and see what problems it is putting into play in our mystery.


2.  What is your first impression of Ruth, as you meet her?  Do you notice anything slightly odd about “our” introduction to her?


3.  Sarah is a character who appears in several of these mysteries.  What initial impressions do you have of her?  If you read Odd School Ties, review what you learned of her there.


4.  More characters, more settings.  Do you have questions about this information?


5.  We learn here about an art exhibit that will be mounted soon in the library, and we learn that Ruth has immigration issues to worry about.  What worries are you beginning to have as you learn these new details?


6.  Charles, the prior at the Benedictine Abbey nearby, is another recurring character.  How are you given important information about him, via the phone?  Or if you have met him in Odd School Ties, what do you expect from him here?


7.  As you watch the art exhibit being set up and watch the watchers, what catches your eye?


8.  Summarize what you learn about the theft from Neil Sanderson.  If you were interviewing him, would you have questions for him about what he reported in class?  How does his information square with what you learn from Fran, the library director?


Part Two


9.  Did you catch the same discrepancies that Brendan did, or did you miss his and note some others?  How would you proceed, were you to assist or advise him in his amateur but involved detective role?


10.  Jacob Millstein is an important character in this story, and your first impression of him is key.  Summarize it, and note how you got the impressions you have formed.


11.  Charles now becomes a source of information for you and Brendan, as he begins to learn information that is not necessarily known to other interested parties.  What strikes you as important as he talks with Charles?


12.  How does Joel Fuller seem to be appraising the crime?  Add the minor characters to your list of interesting parties: Officer Warshaw; Ruth’s mother-in-law, Margaret Warshaw.  If you have not read the biblical Book of Ruth, this might be a good time to review it.  It’s short!


13.  What is your sense of the possible romance between Ruth and Joel?  What makes it likely?  Unlikely?


14.  Another suspect in the frame!  What do you think about the possibilities of a graduate student as the possible thief?  Of an international student?


15.  The focus in this chapter is on the possible “how” of the crime.  This returns us to the discussion among story participants when the theft was first discovered.  As you visualize the building as best you can (we will have pictures at some point), what do you think?


16.  What new do you learn about Ruth?  What would you most like to know that you have not been told?


17.  Though it is not immediately apparent, the film in question provides a valuable clue to the solution of this mystery.  Check out that title if you can and are interested.


18.  What do you think is the significance of the appearance of at least one stolen item at a pawnshop?


Part Three


19. What did you learn that seems useful to the “mechanics” of this story, the matter of how the theft occurred from the library building?


20.  What seems to be the relationship between motivation and obligation, as you think of it generally and as it seems to be working here (also in the story of Ruth, if you have looked at that)?  Are such matters of motivation distinct or mixed, generally speaking, in your experience?


21.  Sum up what you seem to know about Ruth, noting what is more for background and what may be directly relevant to this story.  You may guess wrong, once you know the ending, but it is a useful question to ponder as you read.


22.  Do you think Ruth is likely to marry?  Explain.


23.  What information do you pick up from Brendan and Sarah’s conversation with George Ateef?  Do you suspect him?  Why or why not?


24.  What is Charles’s scoop, and why is it important?  This is an important plot moment, so try to reorganize your information so you see the significance of this new information.


25.  What strikes you as important in the information Fran uncovers, the discrepancy between addresses and phone numbers?  How might this signify?


26.  This chapter may be a side move, to slow the story a bit; or it may provide some useful information.  Comb it carefully to see what you learn that may be important.


Part Four


27.  Another movie hint, but this time it’s what Brendan and Sarah see at the movie rather than what’s in it.  What do you make of their deductions?


28.  Lots of mysteries feature re-stagings.   What does this one generate, and is it what you expected as you heard Brendan and Sarah make their plan?  What might have gone wrong?


29. But still, there is a missing link!  What pieces of information, tossed out somewhat casually, seem important to you?


30.  What do Brendan and Charles accomplish in their conversation?


31.  How does Brendan happen to pick up the crucial connection when he is not looking specifically for it?  How did the visual jog his mind in a way tat simply pondering would never have accomplished?


32.  The party is an opportunity to thank those who helped but also a way to make a streamlined narrative out of a story that zig-zagged.  How do some apparently incidental pieces of information now make better sense to you?


33.  Same question again, now that the circle is smaller and the main lines of the story are known.  Was this primarily a story about “how” or about “who”?  Is it also about “why”?


Epilogue   Review the ending of the biblical Book of Ruth to see why this note is here.