2014-12-10 / Columns

Everyone loves to wrap his mind around a good mystery


It’s been a while since we got together to discuss one of the most popular genres: Mysteries. Devotees can’t get enough whodun it books, and we’re always on the lookout for new offerings.

DEBBIE: “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” by Joel Dicker is the second novel by the Swiss author. This story puts a whole new spin on what it means to be a book lover. It centers on Marcus Goldman, a young, handsome NY literary superstar. Goldman is working on his second novel with a publishing deadline looming as he encounters writer’s block. In an attempt to overcome his obstacle, he reaches out to an old college literature professor and seeks his support. Professor Quebert suggests that Goldman join him in his isolated home in New England to help him find his inner voice. Goldman accepts the invitation and soon finds he is involved in solving a murder mystery revolving around his mentor professor. The body of a young girl is dug up on the grounds of Quebert’s home with the manuscript of his book, which was published in the 1970s. Quebert admits to Goldman that he had an affair with the girl, but swears his innocence in her murder. Determined to clear the professor’s name and repair his reputation, Goldman embarks on an investigation with the local police and decides to turn the results of the case into a book called “The Harry Quebert Affair.” This thriller intrigues as the reader embarks into a fastpaced story within a story.

JUDY: Another foreign author of note is D. A. Mishani, a literary scholar and student of detective literature. His own psychologically complex character is Avraham Avraham (yes, that’s really his name), a young Tel Aviv police officer. In “The Possibility of Violence,” his difficult case is a heartpounding story of one man on the run and his tenacious pursuer. Mishani’s intelligently written story will stay with you long after you have finished reading. This is the second in a series; the first is “The Missing File,” also highly recommended.

AMY: Women are also represented as sleuths in contemporary mysteries. In Julia Dahl’s “Invisible City,” we enter the closed world of ultra-Orthodox Jews when a Hasidic woman’s nude body is found in a scrap yard on a frigid winter day. Reporter Rebekah Roberts works as a stringer for a New York City tabloid, and she quickly realizes that this crime is one she wants to explore in depth. Rebekah’s Hasidic mother Aviva had abandoned her as an infant to return to the Hasidic world; Rebekah’s father was a gentile to whom Aviva was not married. Now Rebekah finds herself learning about the lives of Hasidic women, and she meets a police detective with ties to the community; this man knew Aviva. The author, herself a journalist, presents a realistic, inside view of newsrooms and the world of reporting. Lots of surprises about each of the characters are revealed as Rebekah delves into the crime and comes to terms with her Jewish heritage.

JUDY: I really enjoyed “Invisible City.” It was gritty, realistic and exciting. It really kept me reading and I look forward to the author’s next novel. Now for something completely different: Samuel Hoenig has a unique way of looking at the world in “The Question of the Missing Head” by E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen. That the protagonist has Asperger’s Syndrome is an unusual premise for a character. However, it works quite well. Samuel answers questions for a living, and the fate of the cryogenically frozen head of Mrs. Rita Masters-Powell is the question at hand. This leads, of course, to a murder that also needs solving. The book offers a good story told with humor, but also a sensitive look at an often-misunderstood condition.

AMY: David Liss first appeared on the literary scene in 2000, with his novel, “A Conspiracy of Paper.” In this debut, he introduced Benjamin Weaver, an 18th Century London ex-boxer whose work involves catching thieves. Weaver has appeared in other novels by Liss, and appears briefly in the author’s new novel, “The Day of Atonement.” This is the story of Sebastiao Raposa, whose “New Christian” parents sent him from Portugal to London when he was 13 to escape the vicious Portuguese Inquisition. His parents became victims of the Inquisition, and a decade later, Sebastiao, who has anglicized his name to Sebastian, returns to Lisbon, seeking revenge. Benjamin Weaver has taught Sebastian how to use his fists and his wits to attack thieves, and how to use subtle deceptions to achieve his goals. Sebastian’s goal now is to avenge his parents’ deaths by killing the fanatical Jesuit priest responsible for those deaths. Liss vividly depicts the corruption, crime, and hardships of life in the 18th Century while telling a story that takes unexpected turns.

For more information, contact us: Debbie Drachman at the JCC Sanders Memorial Library (ddrachman@jfedsnj.org); Judy Brookover at Temple Beth Sholom (judy.brookover@gmail.com); and Amy Kaplan at Cong. Beth El (akaplan@bethelsnj.org). .

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