Minotaur Books, $25.99, 278 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-04340-5
The word Haredi is literally translated from the Hebrew as “One who trembles in awe at the word of God.” The Haredim are “Members of any various Orthodox Jewish sects characterized by strict adherence to the traditional form of Jewish Law and the rejection of modern secular culture,” according to the Oxford Dictionary of English language. The Hasidim, or Hasidics, are one branch of the Haredi and they are all, by definition, a cult. Cults are dedicated, highly restrictive and generally patriarchal, or male-dominated in nature, as exemplified by the Amish, Hare Krishna, fundamentalist Mormon, Islamist or Christian sects which come in all stripes and sizes, and all of which have lists of dos and don’t-dos and taboos that are as long as your leg and designed to enforce absolute conformity to a strict set of rules. It’s a stifling environment that crushes free will. But some still struggle to free themselves from those cults at the risk of losing all that they know and love because they will be shunned by family and friends alike. They’ll be forced to cope with and live in an alien, unfamiliar world they’re unprepared for because they’ve been prevented from interacting with it by the cult leaders and the cult rules. In extreme cases, those who attempt to leave may be faced with the threat of physical harm . . . up to and including death.
Run You Down, by Julia Dahl is the second book in her acclaimed and Edgar nominated series featuring a young, New York City based tabloid reporter named Rebekah Roberts, whose father is a Christian minister in Florida and whose mother is a Hassadic woman who abandoned both father and newborn baby nearly three decades earlier. As a reporter, Rebekah has roots in both communities, but knowledge of only the father who raised her. As an adult, she wants to know why her mother abandoned her.
In her first book entitled Invisible City, (Mysterious Book Report No. 187) Rebekah investigates and reports on the murder of an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman and searches unsuccessfully for her estranged mother. Unbeknownst to her, the story was avidly followed by the Hassidic communities in Brooklyn and a number of upstate orthodox enclaves in Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, Ulster and Greene counties as well. That all changes when a Hassidic man in the orthodox haven of Roseville contacts Rebekah and asks her to look into his wife’s death. It’s been called a suicide which he disputes, but is unable to properly investigate because of the restrictions imposed by his religious beliefs. The case appears simple enough at first; the woman, named Pessie Goldin, was found in her bathtub and apparently drowned. Her family is calling it a tragic accident, but the facts just don’t add up, and the more Rebekah discovers, the more she’s drawn into a murky, secret world of people who’ve gotten ‘off the path’ of ultra-orthodoxy . . . just like her mother. It doesn’t take long before she’s drawn ever deeper into a dangerous, and life-threatening series of events which immerse her into a clandestine sub-culture peopled with racism, white supremacists, her missing mother, and an ex-convict uncle she never even knew existed. She struggles to uncover an elusive truth, as well as the facts of a most insular society, determined to keep its age-old traditions.
Julia Dahl is an inspired writer whose work will leave you with a keen insight into the closed society of the Hasidim and an understanding of the demons that family can impose. Bravo! And five stars! Julia’s a keeper, a wordsmith of the first magnitude and an author I’ll be watching and reading for a long time to come.