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RUN YOU DOWN by Julia Dahl: Book Review

One of the best things about reading books is that they take you to new and different places, giving you the opportunity to learn things that perhaps you’d never thought about before.  Some people believe that this is true only for non-fiction, but I don’t agree.  I’ve read many novels, including mysteries, that have transported me to communities and introduced me to cultures I’d never have encountered otherwise.

Julia Dahl’s Run You Down takes the reader to the sect of the Haredi, or Ultra-Orthodox Jews, in New York.  Rebekah Roberts, the heroine of Ms. Dahl’s debut novel Invisible City, is one of the book’s two narrators.  The other is her mother, Aviva Kagan, who was a teenager when she fled an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Brooklyn for the wider world more than twenty years earlier.  She became pregnant, left the infant Rebekah with the child’s father, and disappeared from her daughter’s and her boyfriend’s lives.

Rebekah, now a journalist, didn’t know until recently if her mother was alive.  Even now that she has been given the necessary contact information, Rebekah isn’t sure if she wants to be in touch.  What kind of mother would walk away from her child?  Though Rebekah was brought up in a happy home by her father and stepmother, she still has questions and feelings about her mother that she both does and doesn’t want answered.  Now the murder of a Haredi woman in Roseville, New York looks as if it might bring Rebekah and Aviva together after all these years.

Because of her coverage of the murder of another woman a few months earlier, Rebekah’s name is known to the Haredim.  She’s asked by her friend Saul Katz to meet with the husband of Pessie Goldin, a young mother who allegedly drowned in her bathtub.

Levi Goldin doesn’t believe that his wife died that way, but he’s been thwarted in his attempt to find the answers to his questions by Pessie’s parents and the police chief of Roseville.  Pessie’s parents are worried that their daughter may have committed suicide, a grave offense in their religion, as well as being concerned that the shame of any investigation would hurt their younger daughters’ chances of successful marriages.

They would rather believe, or at least have others believe, that her death was a tragic accident, that she fell while bathing and drowned.  But why is the police chief of the town so reluctant to investigate Pessie’s death?

The other narrator, Aviva Kagan, tells the story of her unhappiness with her religious upbringing and her escape from it.  But that escape didn’t turn out the way she thought it would, and her life has been a search for belonging, from Brooklyn to Florida, back to Brooklyn, then to Israel, and finally to the Jews in Roseville.  But she has never found the peace she’s searched for; even her reunion with her youngest brother, Sam, has brought trouble into her life.

Run You Down is a penetrating look into the closed society of the Jewish Ultra-Orthodox.  Its positive aspects, its sense of community and family closeness is balanced by its negative ones, its paralyzing fear of outsiders and its unwillingness to show any of its imperfections to the Christian world.  Both Rebekah and Aviva are fascinating protagonists, both with engrossing stories that have shaped their lives.

You can read more about Julia Dahl at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads on her web site.