Murder mystery meets conspiracy theory meets theological commentary.

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THE RIGHTEOUS MEN

A kitchen sink of arcane elements—twisted biblical prophecy, Oedipal complex, computer-hacker sabotage—together with such thriller staples as kidnapping and serial-killer psychodynamics makes this one messy whodunit. But it’s a riveting mess.

The concept’s hot: One-by-one, three dozen are targeted for killing, each corpse to be laid out carefully, swaddled in a purple blanket. Bourne, a London journalist aka Jonathan Freedland (Jacob’s Gift, 2005, etc.), cribs from Dan Brown’s well-thumbed manual on mystic atmosphere, and creates a nefarious sect, the Church of the Reborn Jesus, who madly masterminds the murders. Those homicides are head-scratchers for the police—among them, a Manhattan pimp with a heart of gold, a Wild West, right-wing militiaman who’s also a kidney donor, and a Baptist pastor in Brazil. Will, a New York Times reporter, is drawn into this blood-spattered web when his pregnant wife, Beth, is abducted by Hasidic zealots. What connects Beth’s disappearance and the dead men, dropping nearly daily like dominos? Even Will’s adored dad, a federal judge, can’t seem to aid his son, who turns to a Jewish ex-girlfriend to penetrate the heart of Hasidism. Together, they decode the Torah passages the kidnappers send and negotiate a maze that leads, shockingly, back to Will’s own father. Turns out he’s none other than “The Apostle,” high priest of the Reborn Jesus cult. Their mission? To bring the End Times, the Rapture, by knocking off the 36 righteous men Jewish tradition maintains are necessary, at any given time, to keep life on this dark planet alive. Turns out, too, that the Hasidic perps are actually good guys, and the Reborn vicious anti-Semites, adherents of the ultra-fundamentalist doctrine of “replacement theology”—that the Jews, as chosen people, have been replaced by Christians.

Murder mystery meets conspiracy theory meets theological commentary.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-113829-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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