Late Summer Reading: A Roundup of Mysteries and Whodunits
It had to happen—some of our favorite sleuths and spies are aging. This time next year, Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon will have retired from active intelligence fieldwork to become head of Mossad. Peter Decker has already transitioned to a less stressful desk job in Faye Kellerman’s latest murder mystery. Detective Avraham Avraham, in D.A. Mishani’s second installment, was being pushed toward retirement, but has come back determined to prove he is still good at his job. Willi Kraus was not ready to retire from the detecting business but circumstances have put his career officially on hold—he is now a German refugee trying to find a secure footing in Paris in Paul Grossman’s World War II saga.
The Heist: A Novel By Daniel Silva (Harper. 475 pp. $27.99)
Fans will welcome the annual installation of Daniel Silva’s well-paced Gabriel Allon thrillers. In The Heist, Allon interrupts his church-altar restoration job in Venice, his expectant wife’s birthplace, to save the reputation of his friend and secret Mossad informant, British gallery owner Julian Isherwood. Isherwood has discovered the brutally murdered body of a former British spy involved in selling stolen masterpieces. Manipulated by Italy’s Art Squad chief into the job, Allon is also charged with recovering the 11th-century masterpiece The Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence by Caravaggio. It was stolen from a church in 1969, which may have been at the heart of the murder.
From this initial premise, the plot deepens when the forger working for the ex-spy Jack Bradshaw is also murdered, and Bradshaw’s storage facility in Geneva is found to house numerous stolen art works as well as information that could help lead to the murderer.
To track down the collector-killer, Allon—who after years of refusal has agreed to become head of Mossad in a year—will dangle as bait the rumor of an available stolen masterpiece. He assembles his formidable Mossad team in a sting operation. It is not revealing too much to say that it leads to the president of Syria, who is collecting masterpieces as part of a diversified portfolio of wealth.
Then the story takes a turn when Allon homes in on those who control the accounts of Syria’s stolen wealth. One of them works out of a bank in Linz, Austria. And the bank manager, Jihan Nawaz, it turns out, was born in Hama, Syria, where her family was among the 20,000 people who were massacred by the current Syrian president’s father. Can she become the key to uncovering the mysteries closed to the outside world?
As this deliberate tale of recovery and revenge proceeds, it takes the reader through the thrill of uncertainty and to many of Allon’s usual haunts—London, Paris, Geneva and, of course, Jerusalem, where he connects with the aging Ari Shamron, once the uber head of Mossad.
Murder 101: A Decker/Lazarus Novel By Faye Kellerman. (William Morrow, 384 pp. $26.99)
Who would have imagined Detective Lieutenant Peter Decker sitting behind a desk in a small Upstate New York police department? The move to Greensbury means scaling back on dangerous work and living closer to his children. His wife, Rina, busy and happy, teaches at Hillel and invites young people over to share Shabbat. Decker, however, is bored—and greatly annoyed with the arrogant young detective he was assigned to mentor.
Suddenly, thefts come to Greensbury: Two Tiffany windows have been stolen from a mausoleum and replaced with forgeries. Then, an art student from one of the local colleges is murdered; soon after, her friend, a professor, is found dead. Is there a connection between the theft and the murders? And is a 30-year-old unsolved theft of valuable Russian icons from a local church connected to the latest crimes?
Decker leads in the case, plunging him back into the excitement and danger. The big break comes when Decker’s team finds a hidden codebook; and an expert decoder makes connections that lead to a morally ambiguous conclusion.
Faye Kellerman weaves her usual mix of cruel crimes and warm family, but she has not given us the expected black-and-white solution. Instead of ending the book by handing the good guys clarity, control and comprehension—she leaves in its place something like real life’s uncertainty.
A Possibility of Violence: A Novel By D.A. Mishani. (Harper, 280 pp. $26.99)
Israeli author D.A. Mishani’s second book, Detective Avraham Avraham has returned to work after three months of a romantic and rehabilitative interlude in Brussels with his fiancée. Gone is the guilt and depression he felt after his last case when he had missed clues and a young boy was killed.
With a new upbeat state of mind, he takes on his next case: In Holon, a fake bomb in a suitcase was discovered near a daycare center. The first suspect questioned—a defiant young man hanging around while the police were investigating—is dismissed. The police also interview 57-year-old parent Chaim Sara. Normally a man of few words, he is seen heatedly arguing with the teacher. He explains that his child was coming home from daycare with bruises and believes the teacher was abusing his son. Though he, too, is dismissed as a suspect, Avraham is suspicious because, unsolicited, Chaim Sara explains that his wife of eight years, a Filipino, has gone home to the Philippines to care for her sick father.
The reader, however, is is privy to Chaim Sara’s thoughts: We know his wife is dead. In an elaborate scheme, the creepy Chaim Sara, who loves his sons above all else, is arranging to fly with them to the Philippines, where they will learn that their mother is not returning home.
In a second incident, the daycare teacher is assaulted and badly hurt and the case circles back to its original suspect. While the police department is satisfied with the final outcome, Avraham refuses to let go of his gut feeling that all is not right with Chaim Sara and continues trying to track down evidence of wrongdoing.
Despite the cases’ resolutions, Avraham Avraham is not a man to remain happy for long. He again experiences self-doubt over his handling of the cases. For added misery, his personal life is in the dumps; his fiancé stopped taking his calls and did not immigrate to Israel as she had promised. One wonders what to make of this detective—touted on the one hand for solving crimes when others give up, yet sometimes appearing as slow-witted as the rest of us.
The Golem of Hollywood By Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman. (Putnam, 560 pp. $27.95)
This father-and-son murder-mystery originates with Adam and Eve, their two sons and three daughters (don’t look for the specifics to mesh with the biblical account). The storyline runs through Prague and Rabbi Judah Loew, his wife, Perel, and the famous Golem. Its modern thread centers on Los Angeles Detective Jacob Lev and his Orthodox father, Sam Lev.
Many twists upend familiar stories—from Cain killing Abel to the midrash of Adam and Eve’s sons and daughters born as twins and marrying each other. There are shades of Kafka as the odd sister, Asham, morphs into a beetle. In Prague, the Golem and Perel form a bond, deepening the Golem story.
In the present day, in a mysterious turn of events, Jacob comes across a beautiful woman who keeps disappearing.
Jacob is assigned a homicide case because he is Jewish: The word tzedek (justice) has been inscribed on the kitchen counter where the disembodied, zipped-up head of a man has been found; he also finds a beetle. Murder, violence and rape take the detective to Prague and England.
Shaped by biblical and historical mythology as well as the supernatural, The Golem of Hollywood is essentially a story of love, of the bonds between father and son, of family secrets and mysteries. Rich in detail, originality and depth, the book is a pleasure to read.
Brotherhood of Fear: A Willi Kraus Novel By Paul Grossman. (St. Martin’s Press, 312 pp. $25.99)
In Grossman’s third installation of the Jewish Detective Willi Kraus crime series, Kraus, his sons and in-laws are in Paris, refugees from Nazi Germany. Kraus, once the most famous detective in Germany, is struggling to regain his footing—but he needs a certificate of domicile and permission to work. Despite his lack of legal credentials, he is hired by a detective agency to follow a young university student—and then becomes witness to the student’s murder. When he realizes the police are not investigating the crime, he decides to find the murderer himself.
He meets Andre, a charming financier who is idealistically promoting a new concept in bonds—pan-Europa—to unify and create a peaceful continent instead of one riven by ultranationalism. Much to his chagrin, the police order Kraus to spy on Andre. At the same time, Andre gets him a job at a newspaper, where he is told to investigate who is spreading rumors about Andre’s business. Eventually, Andre himself is murdered.
Other deaths follow and Willi, using false police credentials, continues to investigate. Along the way, he begins a relationship with the girlfriend of the slain student, hoping to uncover the forces behind the student’s murder; follows stiletto-wielding Corsican brothers; discovers corruption in the police department; witnesses the popular overthrow of the centrist state government; and, finally, learns who is the power behind the events he has been unwittingly drawn into.
The action in the book continues, literally, to the very end, when a surprising big reveal signals the start of a new chapter for Willi Kraus.
Moving Day: A Thriller By Jonathan Stone. (Thomas & Mercer, 273 pp. $14.95)
Jonathan Stone’s book is constructed symmetrically, its 72-year-old protagonist, Stanley Peke, replaying his past as he must cope with his present. As a 7-year-old in Krakow, Stanley’s parents sent him into the woods to survive on his own. He has never shared his Holocaust experiences with Rose, his wife of 50 years. “There are two parts for Stanley Peke in a continual, sinuous dance of veils with each other. The part that is primped and shaped for familial and marital consumption and the part that remains—like a watch in a safe-deposit box—locked away, unavailable, even to him.”
The retired Stanley is moving from Westchester, New York, to Santa Barbara, California. The moving men came—a day early, he believes—and then he learns that the crew that packed his earthly possessions so carefully had executed a sophisticated scam.
Devastated, Stanley and Rose can recoup the money from their insurance company. But that does not satisfy Stanley. He wants his possessions back. He realizes that the thief may return after he finds Stanley’s bank security box key and security number. He has a GPS inserted into a gem-encrusted watch in the box and is able to track his truck’s movements to Montana. He then instructs his son and his workers to send their truck to Montana to steal everything back.
The story doesn’t end there. Almost like a fight to the finish, the scam artist, Nick, resolves to retake “his belongings.” He kidnaps Stanley and tells Rose that he’ll be released only when he gets everything back. For the first time in her long marriage, Rose must make her own decision, and she, too, turns to her son for help.
This book is more than a thriller; it has drama, psychological insight and a transformative experience. Can you heal the pain of the past that has been repressed for a lifetime? Can one’s ferocious anger be used to one’s advantage?