In the Latest Mysteries, the Women are in Charge
Two young New York reporters are out to prove themselves. In one mystery set in the ‘60s, author James W. Ziskin’s Ellie Stone does not to let sexism undermine her determination to get to the bottom of the assault on her father. In her debut novel, Julie Dahl’s rookie reporter Rebekah Roberts can hardly make it trough na as assignment without falling sick, especially when investigating a murder in Hasidic Borough Park—the neighborhood her mother (who abandoned her) came from.
And Sara Paretsky’s veteran investigator V.I. Warshawski is ever delightful as a woman who is never fazed by the knotty tangle of events in her search for justice. In prolific writer Hesh Kestin’s latest, Dahlia is an Israeli human rights lawyer, but her decisions in the face of events not under her control make this book’s premise a tricky exercise.
Invisible City By Julie Dahl. (St. Martin’s Press, 298 pp. $24.99)
Rookie reporter Rebekah Roberts seems like the last person capable of cracking a murder case—she suffers from anxiety and is always popping pills to calm her stomach pains. In Julie Dahl’s debut novel, Rebekah, who writes for the New York Tribune, has never been assigned to one story long enough to see it through. Now she must go to a crime scene in Borough Park, the Brooklyn neighborhood where her Hasidic mother abandoned her 20 years ago, to be raised by her non-Jewish father.
Though the book has an undercurrent of Rebekah’s interest in learning what happened to her mother (whose anxiety she has inherited), she is desperate to get her foot in the journalistic door. That means discovering who murdered a Hasidic mother of four whose nude body was found suspended from a crane in the scrap yard that belongs to her husband. Along the way, the author gives us a visitor’s view of the Hasidic world.
In this world, most locals adhere to their religious tradition, but there are those trying to escape. And there are heroic women who do not follow the rules: a social worker helps people who want to leave; and the woman who works in a funeral parlor wants the community to stop harboring its secrets. She decides to expose cover-ups by revealing the criminal injuries on the dead bodies. Rebekah, too, puts her life in danger when she doggedly works on following the story clue by clue.
Critical Mass (V.I. Warshawski Novel) By Sara Paretsky. (Putnam, 480 pp. $26.95)
As in the past, V.I. Warshawski is drawn to a case because a friend asked for help. This time, older family friend, Lotty Herschel, asks her to find Judy, the daughter Kitty Binde, a woman Lotty grew up with in Vienna. The story covers four generations, beginning in 1913, and is fraught with complicated relationships, guilt and betrayal, much of it against the backdrop of World War II.
V.I. goes to a Chicago drug house to look for Kitty’s daughter, who is an addict. Instead she finds a dead man, rescues a dog and nearly gets killed herself. Meanwhile Judy’s son, Martin, also goes missing.
Kitty, who survived the Holocaust in England, is an embittered woman who sees conspiracies around her. Under the Nazis, her mother, Martina, a physicist, had been forced to work on developing the atom bomb. In the States, she worked with Benjamin Dzornen (who supervised her thesis) on the Manhattan Project, for which he won the Nobel Prize.
As the mystery unfolds, V.I. must tease out the connection between the Dzornen family, the Binders, the Herschels and the scientists who were brought from Germany to work for the United States after the war—as well as find Martin, especially after Kitty is killed trying to protect her daughter.
Styx & Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery By James W. Ziskin. (Seventh Street Books, 267 pp. $15.95)
Who assaulted the esteemed Professor Stone in his apartment? Who vandalized his son’s grave with a swastika? Ellie Stone, a reporter in Upstate New York returns to the Upper West Side where her father, a Dante scholar at Columbia University’s Italian Department, is hospitalized in critical condition.
Surveying the damaged apartment, all recordings of Jewish composers are broken and the first page of his manuscript “Daughters of Eve: Women in Dante” is from an older copy. Are the crimes anti-Semitic or related to departmental rivalry?
When another professor in the department, womanizer Ruggero Ercolano, is found dead, jewelry found in his apartment points to his involvement in Stone’s assault, as does his possession of a copy of Stone’s manuscript.
Ellie joins the investigation with the local detective and gets to know all the usual suspects: the fawning student; the pompous department chair; the brilliant sexpot and gorgeous lothario; the professor to whom Stone denied tenure.
The biggest suspect, however, is Gualtieri Bruchner, a dour professor with a tattoo and survivor’s story. Yet Professor Stone had challenged his story and witnesses saw Stone claim that Bruchner had another, partly obliterated tattoo that signified something more sinister. When Ellie follows her father’s hunch, she discovers another survivor with the exact same history, but he is a subway motorman who drives the F line. Who is the real Bruchner?
Ellie and her father did not have a good relationship. But there is a reconciliation of sorts when she uses her skill to resolve the crimes, while following clues left by her father (a tipoff hangs on a missing pair of tickets to a Lincoln Center performance).
The Lie: A Novel By Hesh Kestin. (Scribner, 229 pp, $24)
Forty-four years ago, a Jewish and an Arab woman gave birth to a boy and a girl in the same hospital. That event tied the two women in friendship—and life-long protests against the “fascist” State of Israel. Together, they lead a joint Jewish-Muslim peace movement know as Citizens in Black.
The girl, Dahlia, has grown up to be a left-leaning human rights lawyer who defends Arabs accused of terrorism; she has recently agreed to work for Israeli security as the arbiter of when enhanced interrogation methods can be used. She accepts the role in order to change the system from within.
The boy, Mohammed (Edward) Al-Masri is a professor, CNN contributor and Palestinian activist living in Montreal. His arrival in Israel—where he is hauled off to jail because of undeclared euros in his luggage—coincides with a Hezbollah attack and kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in South Lebanon. Edward says he has come to Israel to write a book about the Palestinian Holocaus. The two soldiers, one of them Dahlia’s son, are severely beaten and their lives are offered in exchange for Al-Masri’s release.
Now Dahlia, in her new role, must decide on extraordinary torture in the case of Al-Masri, the man she grew up with and whose mother is closer to her than her own mother. Would she go against her principles to rescue her own child?