Only one of the four books featured here is an actual detective novel, and that’s “The Missing File,” a new murder mystery from Israel by D. A. Mishani (Harper, cloth, $25.99).
Set almost entirely in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, the novel is cleverly bracketed by references to Israeli detective literature, something our detective protagonist, Avraham (Avi) Avraham claims on page two, doesn’t exist.
“Why doesn’t Israel produce books like those of Agatha Christie, or ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?’” he asks a mother who comes in to report a missing son.
Avi claims it’s because life in Israel, and crime in Israel, is just too ordinary.
He’s wrong on both counts, it appears, as Mishani unfolds the plot of the missing boy. With its requisite twists, turns and red herrings, the book leaves the reader guessing until almost the very end and, of course, the book becomes that Israeli detective novel Avraham claims doesn’t exist.
A morose and neurotic chain smoker, Avi is a bachelor whose bickering parents live nearby. We wonder if he really knows what he’s doing as he goes up against faster-moving detectives, tangles in office politics, and tries to figure out what to do with the missing boy’s neighbor, who behaves more and more strangely as the book progresses.
A bonus for American readers are Mishani’s vivid images of Israel and Israeli life, aptly translated by Steven Cohen, and a glimpse into neighborhoods and lives rarely seen by tourists.
Nancy Richler’s new novel, “The Imposter Bride” (St. Martin’s, cloth, $24.99), is less a whodunit than a “where-went-she.”
Lily Azerov is a mail-order bride, a refugee from World War II Europe whose entire family perished. She arrives in Montreal to marry Sol, a stranger to her and who rejects her immediately. But Sol’s brother Nathan falls for Lily, and they are soon married and have a daughter, Ruth. As time passes, it becomes clear to family and friends that Lily is not who she says she is.
Shortly after Ruth’s birth, the already quiet and retiring Lily disappears and Ruth grows up with the mystery of her mother’s disappearance and true identity weighing on her.
Richler uses multiple points of view and shifts back and forth from third person to first person, which can be confusing and frustrating, especially in the beginning of the book. However, Ruth’s first-person narratives always feel most authentic and bring out the author’s best writing. As Ruth grows up, her voice takes over the story and it begins to flow. The reader will be on tenterhooks until the very end trying to figure out Lily’s identity, motives and fate.
Richler, the author of “Your Mouth is Lovely,” also uses the plot to illustrate the horrors of war, and explore the challenges of the new immigrant and the psychological damage of extreme loss.
Local author Patty Lazarus has documented her journey to find a daughter in “March into My Heart: A Memoir of Mothers, Daughters and Adoption” (independent, paper, $14.95).
In her quest to complete her family with a daughter and to overcome both the grief of losing her own mother too early and the grief of infertility, Lazarus sets out to adopt a daughter through open adoption.
The mystery here is, Will She or Won’t She? Will the birth mother come through in the end? As with many memoirs, the reader knows the answer — here it’s in the cover photo — but Lazarus skillfully and movingly constructs the story and keeps up a good level of tension that leaves the reader guessing till close to the end. Lazarus acknowledges she is already blessed when she begins her quest, with a loving husband and two sons, but she’s smart enough to be emotionally honest with herself and to share that honesty with her readers. Her willingness to be open about her life and her feelings adds to the success of this book and the story of the adoption will certainly encourage others seeking to adopt children in this country.
Finally, in “The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro (Algonquin, cloth, $23.95), we meet Claire Roth, a talented young artist who earns a living copying famous works of art for a publisher. Claire is caught up in the intrigue of art forgery when she is asked to copy a work she is sure is stolen. Flaunting morality for ambition, she agrees to do it in exchange for a one-woman show at a gallery.
The foundation of this novel is a true story: In 1990, thieves stole $500 million worth of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, including Degas’ “After the Bath,” featured in Shapiro’s novel. Shapiro writes from Claire’s perspective, going into great detail about the painting process itself, about art forgery and learning, as Claire does, about 19th- and early 20th-century art and the relationship between Degas and Isabella Gardner.