The Closer to Home, the Deeper the Cut

The Closer to Home, the Deeper the Cut

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Rachel Shine has more than enough going wrong with her life in Jerusalem.

Having battled fertility problems with her husband, she’s now divorced. Having survived a terrorist attack, she’s suffering post-traumatic stress — awkward for a psychologist, particularly amid the deadly violence of the Second Intifada. Having lost her faith, she’s estranged from the increasingly Orthodox mountaintop kibbutz where she grew up and where her parents and her two childhood best friends still live.

In Jane Berman’s “Unkosher Slaughter,” Rachel doesn’t think things can get much worse — until they do.

Just before Pesach, the rebbe of her kibbutz is butchered in what appears to be a ritual murder. The suspect is the religiously fervent husband of the rebbe’s daughter, one of Rachel’s two best friends. The kibbutz’s entire economy, based on Orthodox vacationers staying at the kosher hotel, is in danger.

It all hits far too close to home for Rachel, who can’t help getting involved in the hope of restoring normalcy to life.

Berman’s murder mystery is predictable in some ways, from the killer’s next victim to Rachel’s love interest. The pleasure in “Unkosher Slaughter,” however, comes not from solving the crime, but from getting to know Rachel and the other characters.

Berman also succeeds in incorporating uniquely Israeli elements into her story. Some of those elements, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anchor the novel in a specific place and time. Others — including the mistreatment of the elderly (in this case, Holocaust survivors), the conflict between secular and religious life, infertility, and basic greed — make the story feel universal.

If Berman has a flaw, it’s that, in an effort to provide several plausible suspects, she presents a depressingly large number of ways that people harm one another. But she also creates an excellent piece of entertainment for reading on the beach or beside the pool.

Unkosher Slaughter

By Jane Berman

Pardes Publishing, 326 pages, $15

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