Mysterious Book Report Invisible CityInvisible City by Julia Dahl

Minotaur Books, $24.99, 298 pages, ISBN 978-1-250-04339-9

Have you ever thought about any of the subcultures which exist in the midst of what we call ‘normal’ or regular society? Religious groups like the Amish, Mennonites, Hare Krishna’s, Islamist’s, Mormons, Sikhs and Hindus are all stitched into the fabric of America in plain sight . . . yet remain secretive and mostly unknown by all the rest of us. They have a common desire to be left alone, allowed to live by their own rules and reject all values other than those they themselves espouse, rules which usually involve a central authority figure who speaks for, as well as to the followers . . . with precise and rigid instructions about how one may only know God by devotion to the rules. Rules which are interpreted by men for the benefit of their women. Oh Yeah. Here’s where it gets good . . . as long as you’re not female.

One of the largest subcultures in America are the Hasidim . . . ultra-orthodox Jews who dress like 18th century Poles in black frock coats and hats, wear long side curls at their temples and speak Yiddish—who are concentrated in Brooklyn, and throughout the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. We’ve all seen them. They’ve become so numerous that they’re almost ubiquitous in some places, but non-Hasidics know almost nothing about them.

Invisible City, is a sparkling debut from a veteran newspaper reporter named Julia Dahl that takes the reader into the secretive and insular world of the Brooklyn Hasidic community through the eyes of a beat reporter named Rebekah Roberts. She’s a stringer, a part-time employee for a New York Tabloid called The Tribune, who is sent to gather the facts about a murdered woman whose naked body is found in a metal scrap yard along Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal—an area dominated by the Hasidic community. She quickly finds out that the ultra-Orthodox have their own ambulance and police forces, and heavy political influence with City Hall as well as the NYPD. When the woman’s body is buried one day later, with neither an autopsy nor an investigation, Rebekah figures that a cover-up is taking place and risks her life and career to see justice done—while at the same time searching for her own mother—a Hasidic woman who abandoned her Lutheran husband and infant daughter, then disappeared twenty-four years earlier. She’s the mother that Rebekah hasn’t heard from since being abandoned by her. This is a riveting and suspenseful novel, written in a strong, forceful and compelling voice. I’m looking forward to Ms. Dahl’s next installment of what is certain to be a popular and best-selling series.


John Dwaine McKenna