Aviva Kagan was just a teenager when she left her Hasidic Jewish lift in Brooklyn for a fling with a smiling college boy from Florida. A few months later she was pregnant, engaged to be married, and terrified. So, shortly after the birth of her daughter, Aviva disappeared.
Twenty-three years later, a man from the ultra-Orthodox enclave of Roseville, New York contacts NYC tabloid reporter Rebekah Roberts about his wife’s mysterious death. Once Rebekah starts investigating, she encounters a whole society of people who have wandered ‘off the path’ of Hasidism – just like her estranged mother. Aviva’s world, it turns out, contains dangerous secrets…
Having read and enjoyed Julia Dahl’s UK debut, Conviction, last year, I was eager to be part of the blog tour for Faber’s release of another Rebekah Roberts title, Run You Down. Whilst Run You Down is actually the second book in the Rebekah Roberts series (the first being Invisible City, also now available in the UK), it works absolutely fine as a standalone, with the events of the first book briefly alluded to only at the very start.
Rebekah is an absolutely fantastic character – engaging and determined yet mindful and empathetic, I found her to be a refreshing portrayal of a reporter. At the whims of the city desk, Rebekah has to get the story and get it on record but she never loses sight of the people, or the community, affected by her words. It is, sadly, rarer than it should be to find well-rounded, professional female leads in crime fiction so it is heartening that Rebekah; whilst personally connected to the story she is investigating through her estranged mother Aviva, doesn’t lose her head, remaining focused on being a thorough and professional reporter. I love how balanced she is as a character, with vulnerabilities and sharp edges, hopes and dreams. As in Conviction, Rebekah’s voice is definitely one of the strengths of the book and, having read backwards through the series, it’s fascinating to see how Dahl has developed her throughout each book.
I was also fascinated by the insights into the Orthodox Jewish community. Dahl has clearly done her research into Hasidic and Haredi Jews and vividly but respectfully brings their culture onto the page, without glancing away from some of the more problematic aspects of enclosed communities. More so than in Conviction, Run You Down focuses on some of the problems encountered by Orthodox Jews who choose to leave the community, examining the collision between freedom and vulnerability. Run You Down transports the reader into this world which is made to feel at once both strange and familiar. She is also unflinching in her portrayal of a neo-Nazi organisation, unafraid of getting underneath the skin of her characters and interrogating their motives and beliefs. It makes for a compelling melting pot, taut and tightly constructed but with a sensitivity and deftness of touch.
The plot, which alternates between Aviva’s life story and Rebekah’s investigation into the mysterious death of Pessie Goldin, builds in tension from the start. Initially, I found myself more interested in Rebekah’s investigation that Aviva’s tragic life, however, as the two strands of the story combined, I found myself racing through the pages, eager to know how Aviva’s backstory intertwined with Pessie’s death. The ending, explosive and poignant, was thought-provoking and moving, providing a satisfying conclusion but without too neat a tidying up of loose ends.
Unafraid to confront contemporary issues of gun control, racial tension, and religious freedom, Run You Down is a crime novel imbued with the flavours of our time. Alive from the first page to last, it uses a meticulously crafted plot and incisive characterisation to tell a profound and moving story; one that is filled with insight and compassion and will leave you thinking long after you’ve turned the final page.
Run You Down by Julia Dahl is published by Faber & Faber and is available now in paperback and ebook from all good bookstores and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book and an invitation to this tour in return for an honest and unbiased review. The tour continues until 11 January so please do check out the other stops along the way.