Saturday, June 6, 2015

Dangerous Reunions

Run you Down by Julia Dahl


The sudden death of Pessie Goldin never received any publicity, despite her being a young mother. That's mostly because she's a member of the ultra-orthodox (Haredi) community of Roseville, and they officially declared it an accident. However, her husband Levi is suspicious about the circumstances, and refuses to believe this or the suicide rumors. Since the Haredi burial society won't allow the police to carry out autopsies, the only way to look for the truth is to get the press involved. After Rebekah Roberts covered the Rivka Mendelssohn story so successfully, despite it almost getting her killed, she is Levi's only possibility. For Rebekah, this is story she can't resist, particularly because her mother Aviva is now living in Roseville, and it finally seems they both are ready to meet.

Dahl's second Rebekah Roberts mystery picks up only weeks after Invisible City ends. Rebekah is still recovering from almost being killed covering the Rivka Mendelssohn story, and the Trib has her on desk duty. However, that's no place for an aspiring investigative journalist like Rebekah, so the opportunity to get back into the field is both exciting, and daunting (if not haunting), especially now that she's made a name for herself with the "Haredi beat." While one story doesn't usually make such a splash, the danger to Rebekah while reporting it, combined with her ability to get inside such an insular community and do her job both objectively and with unusual sensitivity, certainly would. With it, she gained the trust of the community, which is invaluable.

This dichotomy of objectivity vs. attachment is one of the central themes in this book. While trying to be non-judgmental, it is very human to react adversely to the strange and unfamiliar. More importantly, it is difficult to try to be understanding of things that disturb your sensibilities. Rebekah is still an outsider in the Haredi world, despite her mother's origins. Aviva left that world, but was unable to live outside its confines. To return to that meant abandoning her daughter, but the damage she caused by leaving also made returning impossible. Dahl plays up this point-counterpoint idea by giving Aviva the opportunity to tell her side of the story, in chapters that alternate with Rebekah's delving into this new story.

At first, I wasn't convinced that I liked this approach. There was something inserting Aviva's story into Rebekah's that felt like it disrupted the flow of the story. However, the more I read, the more it became obvious that this was an excellent way of adding this information, without lobbing it at us after the climax, which would have ruined the impact. More importantly, these sections contained vital clues to the investigation at hand. They also contain the type of background information that gives us more insights into Rebekah's character, which were missing from the first book. Since I don't usually read series, I'm guessing that this is one method for tying previous books to the newer ones.

I also have to admit that these chapters gave Run You Down a different feel from what we got with Invisible City. Rebekah seems less hard-boiled in this book, but the fact that she almost died investigating the Mendelssohn story, and hasn't yet fully recovered from her injuries, partially explains this. Furthermore, the fact that Rebekah is now willing to meet her mother, also contributes to the softening of her character. Most interesting is how Dahl writes the chapters in Aviva's voice with such a gentle touch, especially compared to those in Rebekah's voice. These somehow seem to temper Rebekah's roughness as the story progresses. This doesn't mean that this story is any less exciting than the previous one, and in fact, once again Dahl masterfully builds the energy towards the climax. Strangely enough, the perpetrator of the murder isn't so much of a surprise, but rather in how their captured, and the people involved.

It should be obvious from the above review that I enjoyed this novel as much as I did the first Rebekah Roberts book. With it, Dahl has firmly established herself as a first-rate crime fiction writer, with a refreshingly unique twist to her stories. Dahl gives us not only a protagonist who is both professional and endearing, but also a crime beat that is deliciously shadowy to both Jews and non-Jews. I must point out that this is not a stand-alone novel, so if this review has piqued your interest, I suggest you read Invisible City first, and then read this book, both of which I highly recommend with four and a half stars out of five. 

"Run you Down" by Julia Dahl expected release date June 30, 2015 from St. Martin's Press - Minotaur Books), is available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery) or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the author for requesting the publisher send me an advance reader copy of this book for review via NetGalley. This review also appears on my Times of Israel blog.