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Anyone who has never lived on a kibbutz doesn't understand the first thing about it,"" widowed teacher Dvorka Harel tells Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon (Literary Murder, 1993, etc.) when he arrives at a kibbutz in the northern Negev to investigate the death of her daughter-in-law, kibbutz internal secretary Osnat Harel -- who didn't die of pneumonia or of an allergic reaction to penicillin, but of the lethal insecticide parathion. And it's true that Michael, perhaps the most perpetually bewildered of contemporary detectives (how did he ever get promoted to lead the Serious Crimes Unit?), seems out of his depth among the kibbutz's dysfunctional family of 327 souls. He's afraid to broadcast the real cause of Osnat's death for fear of panicking the survivors; he doesn't want to push Osnat's old lover, Aaron Meroz -- who swapped the kibbutz for the Knesset, only to return for a visit days before Osnat's murder -- too hard after Aaron is felled by a heart attack; and he feels trapped between his boss, Brigadier General Yehuda Nahari, who has grabbed the case for the Serious Crimes Unit, and Inspector Machluf Levy, who wants to keep it himself. You don't understand, everybody tells Michael, as if murder in a close-knit community were a startling new departure for detective fiction. But they're clearly right in this case; it takes a posthumous revelation from Osnat and a second, nearly successful murder attempt before bemused Michael is ready to make an arrest. Amateurish in its detection, heavily sincere in its revelations about the extended family life of the kibbutz. You can learn a lot from Gur about kibbutzim, but not why the kibbutzniks aren't constantly killing each other off.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: HarperCollins