'Warsaw Anagrams' and more hit shelves
BY ED SIEGEL | NEWSDAY
From Poe and Doyle to Cornwell and Nesbx, the crime genre has assured us that for all the grotesqueries in the world there are public or private forces to set things right. But many of the best writers of the 20th and 21st centuries bring a different argument to the table: For all the seeming normalcy of the world around us, there are forces out there -- political, psychological -- to tear the world apart. And the people to whom we have often turned either don't care or are helpless to do anything about it.
This isn't a message many mystery readers want to hear, and to find these more literary, transgressive (and less predictable) writers, we often have to turn to smaller, more adventurous presses with names that promise a shock to the system -- Felony & Mayhem, Bitter Lemon, Overlook. Here are three of their latest releases.
Setting a mystery during the Holocaust could be cheap or sensationalistic. In "The Warsaw Anagrams" (Overlook Press, $25.95), Richard Zimler quickly dispels both concerns with smart, metaphorical writing that owes more to Isaac Bashevis Singer than to Richard North Patterson. Erik Cohen is a psychiatrist condemned to the deprivations and humiliations of the Warsaw Ghetto, where he lives with his daughter and grandson, whose eventual death Cohen feels responsible for. When we meet him, though, he's a ghost of his former self -- literally, a Jewish ibbur.
Cohen tells his story, months after his death, to the only man who can see him. The issue isn't who killed his grandson, but a Torah-inspired journey into ethics -- atonement, sacrifice, acting ethically though life is seemingly meaningless. After the boy's body is found, Cohen blames himself for letting the boy go out to play despite the growing danger posed by patrolling Nazis. But instead of giving in to his shame, Cohen harnesses his inner Holmes to his Freudian analysis of human brutality to figure out who killed his grandson and what's going on between the Nazis and Jewish Poles out to save themselves. Zimler, in spare but striking prose, is masterful at showing how ordinary people can be moved to do extraordinary evil and, just occasionally, extraordinary good.
Causes Richard Zimler Supports
Save the Children, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA)