Julia Dahl’s second novel works best if you know the backstory, laid out in her Edgar Award nominee Invisible City. But even if you haven’t read the first book, Run You Down is still an intriguing glimpse into the secretive world of New York’s Hasidic community and those who feel compelled to leave it at great personal cost.
In Invisible City, budding reporter Rebekah Roberts covers a murder in the Hasidic community. The group is of special interest to her, because the mother who abandoned her when she was an infant was born into such a community in Brooklyn. After running away with Rebekah’s father to Orlando and giving birth to Rebekah, Aviva Kagan disappears, overwhelmed by her choices and the outside world.
Rebekah grew up in Orlando with a loving father but always wondered what motivated her mother. She hopes to find the truth in the Run You Down, in which she becomes embroiled in another Hasidic mystery (the setup may sound too convenient, but it’s not at all awkward; Rebekah is contacted for help because people have read her stories in the paper). This time, a young mother is found dead in her bathtub, her infant son crying nearby. Afraid she has committed suicide, her parents don’t press for an investigation, and the police don’t seem interested in pursuing the case. But her husband is adamant that she would not have harmed herself.
Following this story leads Rebekah deeper into the Hasidic world and to other, darker places, where she stumbles across a violent band of white supremacists and discovers a link that may finally lead her to her mother.
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Dahl draws you into this smart, well-plotted thriller with engaging characters and a unique setting. She allows Rebekah to share narration duties with Aviva, who explains her side of the story as if she were talking to Rebekah, and the mother/daughter dynamic adds a welcome poignancy. Reader Andi Arndt, who also narrates the audio version of Invisible City, delivers good characterizations of both women and slips easily into Aviva’s Yiddish accent; she’s a solid choice for this material.
There’s plenty of fertile ground here for a series. Here’s hoping Dahl brings us back.
Connie Ogle is the Miami Herald’s book editor.