Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Invisible City

Invisible City
By Julia Dahl
Minotaur Book May 2014
304 pages
Read via Netgalley

Invisible City

Rebekah Roberts is a journalist who is sent all over New York City to find the best stories. When she is assigned a story on the murder of a Hassidic woman, it strikes close to home. When she was a baby, Rebekah's mother left her and her father to go back home to her Hasidic community. Rebekah hasn't heard from her since. She  is moved by the woman's brutal death and wants to find answers, even among the secretive Orthodox community. With help from an unlikely source, she ventures into the practices and secrets of her mother's world.

As I was reading this book, I was reminded of the mystery Gone Missing. Both stories feature a protagonist with ties to a closed community - the Orthodox Jews or the Amish - and both involve mysteries. My hesitation was the same with both books. When we read a fictional account of a community that is relatively unknown to us, I think it is all too easy to assume that fiction is fact. In Invisible City, Rebekah discovers that the police stay out of the business of the Hasidic community because of their hefty donations. Do I believe that could happen? Sure, but I worry that we blur the lines between truth and storyline when our protagonists find entry points into these closed cultures. However, my worry was unfounded with this book - Ms. Dahl is careful to make her characters realistic and not caricatures. She delves into some of the darker issues that haunt insular communities like this one, but she also shows the tradition and beauty of their way of life.

The mystery plot of this story is well handled. It is difficult to tell who might be behind the murder when Dahl introduces so many interesting characters. I was impressed by Rebekah as a character too. It is all too easy to begin the story with someone who has no experience in investigation, but somehow ends up solving the case effortlessly. Rebekah is unsure of her abilities as a journalist and very wary of poking her nose into this situation. While she starts off doing it for her job, she follows through because she comes to care for the people involved. She makes many mistakes along the way, which makes this plot believable.

Invisible City is a novel with many different layers. At its most basic, it is a mystery. But underneath that, this is the story of woman without the security of a mother finding her way and her voice in her profession and in her personal life. It is is a glimpse into the hidden danger and small joys of living separately, either as an individual or as a community. It's a story that will keep you turning pages into the small hours of the morning so you can solve the mystery and see a compelling character win the day. 


  1. I've seen this book floating around, but didn't know what it was about. After having read your review, I am definitely going to check this one out. I like that its more than just a mystery. Thanks for another great (and thoughtful!) review...although you keep adding book titles to my neverending list of "Books I Should Read Next." :)

    1. With so many mysteries out there, it helps to have some additional storylines! I would say I'm sorry about your tbr list...but I'm not! :)