I didn’t think it would be possible for the second book in this series to live up to the first, which is a compelling personal story, a suspenseful mystery, and one of my favorite novels of 2014 (my review here), but this new book by Julia Dahl is at least as gripping as her debut. At the end of the previous novel Rebekah learns that her long lost mother would like to talk, but when this one opens several months later Rebekah still hasn’t been able to get herself to give her mother a call. Aviva Kagan was a troubled teenager when she left her Hasidic Jewish life in Brooklyn, ran off with a non-Jewish college boy, gave birth to Rebekah, and then fled to parts unknown, leaving her fiancé and infant daughter behind.
Rebekah is working her dream job as a journalist, but coping with anxiety (long term) and depression (new) is affecting her reporting skills and threatening to derail the career progress she’s made. When she’s contacted by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who hopes she’ll look into why his wife’s suspicious death hasn’t been investigated so she can write an article to prod the police, Rebekah gets involved with the insular religious community her mother grew up in and finds herself investigating a group of white supremacists.
For the first two-thirds of the novel Rebekah’s mother recounts her life to explain her actions in chapters that alternate with Rebekah in the present day until the two plotlines begin to converge. I was equally drawn to the stories of both women, and it’s all written so realistically and set so convincingly in a timeline of real events that it’s easy to get swept up. Characters with varied levels of religious belief and disbelief are all portrayed with insight and sympathy, and are allowed shortcomings as well as strengths. It’s a disquieting but potent story and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.