Pho­to by Markus Win­kler on Unsplash

When I grew up, nine­ty-nine per­cent of the detec­tive sto­ries I read fea­tured men as the pro­tag­o­nists. But as I fin­ished a nov­el and returned to my every­day life, it was evi­dent that the ulti­mate detec­tive was stand­ing in the kitchen, cook­ing din­ner. My moth­er was the best detec­tive I ever knew. She could make Sher­lock Holmes get down on his knees and wipe the floor if she only had the time. Of course, she did­n’t have the time, since she was a woman, try­ing to bal­ance a career and a family.

Below is a list of fea­tures the top detec­tives and Jew­ish moth­ers have in common. 

Intu­ition. Detec­tive fic­tion is full of some­what mys­ti­cal moments, in which the detec­tive sens­es that there’s some­thing wrong. He smells some­thing, or even bet­ter — he feels it in his body” when some­thing is just not right”. Well, moth­ers do it all the time, just with­out applause. They know when you’re down (even when you try to hide it) and they have a knack for know­ing when you’d rather just let some­thing be (and then they’ll be sure to bring it up). Detec­tives use their intu­ition to solve mur­der mys­ter­ies. Moth­ers use their intu­ition to solve the biggest mys­ter­ies in our lives — our own children. 

Razor-sharp mem­o­ry. Detec­tives pay atten­tion to the small­est details. So do moms. My best friend is a moth­er of three young boys. She knows their dai­ly rou­tine by heart. In fact, she is their dai­ly rou­tine: which class is when and where, tomor­rows’ home­work, next weeks’ assign­ment, which one of the boys hates peanut but­ter in his sand­wich, which one refus­es to go to school with­out peanut but­ter in his sand­wich, who loves to lis­ten to which music, who hit who, and what exact­ly was the pun­ish­ment. In detec­tive fic­tion, the small details build upon each oth­er to cre­ate the big pic­ture. In moth­er­hood, the small details illu­mi­nate who these chil­dren are and their per­son­hood as it develops. 

Detec­tives use their intu­ition to solve mur­der mys­ter­ies. Moth­ers use their intu­ition to solve the biggest mys­ter­ies in our lives — our own children. 

Tenac­i­ty. The detec­tive’s quest for knowl­edge is often bru­tal. No mat­ter how many obsta­cles he encoun­ters on his way, a true detec­tive nev­er gives up. Who­ev­er lis­tened to a typ­i­cal din­ner-time con­ver­sa­tion about col­lege, knows moth­ers can be just as tena­cious as a hard-boiled detec­tive after two bot­tles of whisky. 

Blind Spots. Irony is a key ele­ment in detec­tive fic­tion. The inves­ti­ga­tor is known for his sharp eye and pen­e­trat­ing gaze, yet there’s some­thing he’s bound to miss. Not because he’s a bad detec­tive, but rather because he is human. Because we all want to know the truth just as much as we want to avoid it. Moth­ers look at their chil­dren all the time. They want to know every­thing. But do they real­ly? Could it be that we pre­fer to remain blind to cer­tain ele­ments in our child’s character?

As a moth­er, it’s some­times shock­ing to real­ize that you can spend so much time with your kids and still know noth­ing about what’s going on inside their mind. It makes you feel like a stranger in your own family.

Three years ago, I told my moth­er what my next nov­el was going to be about. I hate talk­ing about books before they’re done, but this time I had no oth­er choice. My moth­er was dying of can­cer, and we both knew she would­n’t be around for pub­li­ca­tion. My new nov­el, The Wolf Hunt, tells the sto­ry of a moth­er who starts to sus­pect that her child was involved in the death of his class­mate. She becomes a detec­tive of a sort, and the mys­tery she is try­ing to solve is her own child. When I told that to my mom, she smiled and said that per­haps every moth­er has a detec­tive in her. Every moth­er looks at her child as if they are a rid­dle that she is try­ing to solve.

I wrote this essay in my mother’s mem­o­ry, the great­est detec­tive I’ll ever know.

Ayelet Gun­dar-Goshen is the author of The Liar and Wak­ing Lions, which won the Jew­ish Quar­ter­ly – Wingate Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book, and has been pub­lished in sev­en­teen coun­tries. She is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, has worked for the Israeli civ­il rights move­ment, and is an award-win­ning screen­writer. She won Israel’s pres­ti­gious Sapir Prize for best debut.