Out of This World Jewish Thrillers
Shades of Twilight! This season boasts novels whose Jewish elements are part and parcel of otherworldly characters and events. They are not written in the traditional mystery-thriller mode—but there definitely is mystery and madness.
Of Love and Evil (Songs of the Seraphim, Book 2) by Anne Rice. (Knopf, 192 pp. $24.95)
Of Love and Evil is the second book of Anne Rice’s series that features Toby, a being somewhere between human and angel. In this story of tikkun, to atone for his earlier wickedness as an assassin, Toby’s guardian angel sends him on various missions to rescue people.
Toby is sent to Rome to help a young Jewish healer, Vitale ben Leone, save his best friend, Niccolo, who is also the son of his benefactor, Signore Antonio. Vitale must also rout a dybbuk causing chaos in the house his benefactor wants to give Niccolo and his future bride, Leticia. To add to Vitale’s problems—none of his remedies are curing Niccolo—some of Antonio’s advisers (egged on by Niccolo’s brother Lodovico) are accusing him of witchcraft and of poisoning Niccolo. Toby arrives on the scene as a lute player, a Jew with a yellow patch. He helps the investigations focus on the real cause of Niccolo’s worsening state.
Only when tragic events that occurred 20 years ago are revealed can peace and healing take place
The Last Jewish Virgin: A Novel of Fate by Janice Eidus. (Red Hen Press, 147 pp. $24.95)
Janice Eidus’s smart New York comic novel features a Jewish feminist author-mom, who lectures her daughter about the value of her Jewish and female identities and the importance of tzedakaand tikkun olam. The daughter, Lilith, an art student, is a fashionista who favors the vampire look. She is also determined to remain a virgin, and not get distracted by sex, love and marriage until she has conquered the fashion world. And, despite rejecting her mother’s political and religious agenda, she nevertheless obsessively checks out people against her “Jewish-not Jewish” meter.
But something interferes with this intense relationship to take it to another dimension, literally. First, her strange art teacher, Baron Rock, appears to be singling her out in class and exerting a strong pull over her. She cannot refuse his invitation to his house—which has bat figures as doorknobs—to model for him. This is exciting and confusing—she’d love to discover if Rock sleeps in a coffin. Still, it is only after Rock meets her mother and she flips from mature feminist into a mindless groupie that Lilith asserts herself.
While the conclusion is surprising, moms will be happy to know that Lilith reaches a deeper appreciation of her mother.
Lady Lazarus by Michelle Lang. (TOR Book, 319 pp. $14.99 paper)
Remember the Witch of Ein Dor, who summoned the shade of the prophet Samuel at the command of King Saul? Well, it seems that despite witchcraft’s transgressiveness, there remains a Jewish line of witches, two of them the sisters Lazarus, who live in 1939 Budapest. Magda, the eldest is the main inheritor of her family’s power; Gisele, the younger, has prophetic visions. She foresees the coming conflagration that Hitler is spreading from country to country and the murder of millions. They resolve to use their power to stop the evil from advancing.
Can two untutored and untried witches save the world—especially since her knowledge of Hebrew, the language of salvation, is limited? Magda must confront a great many angry, ugly and evil vampires and demons and even choose death. But will she be resurrected to continue the fight? Can it be won? Is the danger worth it? For Magda and readers of Lady Lazarus, the story is more than a curious journey and supernatural fireworks; it is about the power to challenge hatred, discover love and learn the value of life.