Today I am reviewing Invisible City by Julia Dahl.
About the book (from the publisher): Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah or her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of being a big-city reporter. But she’s also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.
Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah’s shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD’s habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can’t let the story end there. But getting to the truth won’t be easy – even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it’s clear that she’s not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.
My review: This is an extremely impressive debut. Julia Dahl is a former reporter and she clearly knows that world. Rebekah, the reporter in the novel, is just out of college and working as a stringer for a New York newspaper. That means she gets a call from someone at the office telling her to go to a certain site and get as much information as she can about the story at hand. Her beat is the entire city. The call that directs her to the site where a murdered Hasidic woman has been found sends her further and further into the tightly-knit, cloistered Hasidic community.
I found the world that Dahl depicts in such realistic detail to be fascinating: the distrust of anyone outside the community, especially the police, the house where those who question their faith meet to talk, the history that has compelled the community to remain cloistered, the sense we get of the daily lives of those in this world. Rebecca’s need to find out answers, coupled with her personal history, makes for a gripping read. The plot is tight, the dialogue is extremely well written, the tension builds and builds until the final pages. The characters we encounter are vividly drawn. Dahl has managed to write about this community in a very real way while maintaining respect for those who inhabit it.
I’ve always been fascinated by this subject matter. Living in the greater NYC community, I encounter those who practice this faith fairly frequently. Dahl has managed to give us insight into the world of the Hasidic community while creating a story that moves quickly, keeps you on the edge of your seat and is ‘Un-put-downable.’
What a great read! I was sorry to see it end, but heartened to know that Julia Dahl has a second Rebekah Roberts mystery in the works, to be published next year.
I recommend it highly.
About the author: Julia Dahl was born in Fresno, California, to a Lutheran father and a Jewish mother. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and writes about crime and justice for CBSNews.com.
Julia is a former freelance reporter for the New York Post and her articles have appeared in Mental Floss, Salon, the Columbia Journalism Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, Pacific Standard, Marie Claire and Seventeen, among others.
Invisible City is her first novel.
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I happily purchased this novel with my own money.