Thursday, January 21, 2016

Invisible City - Julia Dahl

For the longest time I resisted reading mysteries until I was persuaded to try Elizabeth George's A Great Deliverance. I was hooked, not just on her but on the genre. When I began my career as a bookseller, we did nice trade in mysteries, but by the time the store closed I daresay more than half of the works of fiction we sold were mysteries. Since more and more of our customers were making the leap, it behooved me to continue reading them even more. Hey! What can I say? It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. 

This is why I chose Invisible City to read, though. One of the mystery writers I jumped to after reading that Elizabeth George novel was Faye Kellerman. Her Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus series was a fascinating insight into the life of devout Judaism. I am drawn to lives of devotion that don't mirror what my own Christian faith looks like. After all, Christians hold that we are to go out into the world, but in Orthodox Judaism (and conservative Islam, for that matter), remaining separate from the world is paramount. The exercise of that call to separateness varies, of course, and the practices that Kellerman's Rina Lazarus follows are the sort that always seem lovely and do-able to me, even as they remained foreign.

Invisible City bore the "Staff Pick" sticker that we employed at the bookstore, and in this case was placed there by the owner. It was one of the last books I bought there, persuaded as I was by that sticker and also because it was a mystery involving Hasidic Jews. All I really knew about them was what I occasionally saw in the news, usually when their culture collided with ours. I have found them a curiosity, what with their somber clothes and unusual hair styles and hats. Like Amish, they can be identified easily by their outward appearances. What is it to live a practice of faith in which you voluntarily announce by your dress and hairstyle or hair covering, "I choose to stand apart from you?"

When an Hasidic Jewish woman's body is discovered in a scrap pile belonging to her husband's business, normal investigative channels into the crime are hampered by concessions made to the Orthodox community by local law enforcement. Since Rebekah Roberts, a stringer for a newspaper, is in the area when the body is discovered it falls to her to get the scoop. She becomes particularly curious about and involved in the lives of this community after discovering that one of the officers involved is a friend of her mother, who abandoned Rebekah in order to return to her Orthodox roots. His involvement, as liaison between the Hasidics and the police department, opens doors for Rebekah that provide her access to people and places to which the outside world is typically unwelcomed. 

I was drawn in by Rebekah's own curiosity about the mother she has never known, and a faith she has never shared. Dahl's sensitivity to those who practice Orthodox Judaism is obvious, and serves to draw back a curtain for the reader in order that we may peer beyond the merely curious into understanding. 

I am looking forward to reading the next in the series, as soon as I can get my hands on it. Where's a great bookstore when you NEED one? 

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