Ellen here. I discovered Jonathan’s terrific Adam Lapid Mysteries when a woman at my gym who knows I’m a mystery writer handed me one of his books, along with a well-deserved glowing recommendation. The series is set in the late 1940s and early 1950s Israel, when the newly formed nation is struggling to find its feet and survive. Protagonist Adam Lapid, a detective in Hungary, now works as a P.I. in Israel. He survived the Holocaust; his wife and two daughters didn’t.
I invited Jonathan to guest with us today. NOTE to our Chicks family: he lives in Israel, so the time difference will affect when he responds to comments.
At first there was the desire to write a book. Any book. Just a great story long enough to call it a novel. I had no idea about the story, or the characters, or the setting.
When I had been a teenager, I had wanted to be the next Stephen King, so my initial choice for genre was horror. I wrote a dismal story about a factory where humans are fattened up for consumption. Soylent Green but without any charm or class or any other redeeming qualities.
Then, remembering my fondness for Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, I thought I’d write a science-fiction tale. I had an idea for a story about a space colony in which a deadly race takes place. Something like the chariot scene in Ben Hur only with futuristic vehicles. That story never went longer than a few hundred words.
At the time, I was living in Amsterdam and was part of a writers’ group made up mostly of American expats. One of the other members, taking pity on me, told me, “You love Israel so much, why don’t you write about that?”
Good idea, I thought, then immediately made it harder on myself by coming up with an idea for a mystery novel that takes place not in today’s Israel, which I know well, but in 1949, of which I knew not nearly as much.
But the idea, tenacious and unyielding, stuck with me, demanding my attention. The idea was this: A German-Jewish woman on the eve of the Second World War gives her baby boy to a friend who is emigrating from Germany to the Land of Israel. The mother gets stuck in Europe by the war and its aftermath and manages to arrive in Israel only in 1949, ten years later. She has had no contact with her son in the interval.
To find out what happened to her boy, she hires private investigator Adam Lapid. Anything that happens next was as much of a mystery to me as to Adam Lapid himself. That idea eventually became book 1 in the series, Ten Years Gone.
To write a historical mystery, I figured I should do some research. I found a database of historic Jewish newspapers, including those published in Israel at the time. I read memoirs of people who lived in the country in the 1940s and ‘50s. And I began interrogating my parents, who grew up in Tel Aviv in those years.
I learned more about my country in the process than I ever did in school. For instance, I learned about Gymnasia Herzliya, the first Hebrew high school that once stood on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv. The school was torn down in 1959 to make room for a much less attractive skyscraper.
I learned about food rationing. About how people would buy contraband on the widespread black market. How they would stand in long lines that snaked out of grocery stores in the hope of buying eggs or cheese or meat for their children.
All these things influenced the story and characters, as did the specter of the Holocaust, which loomed over everything.
My protagonist, Adam Lapid, is an Auschwitz survivor trying to rebuild his life in Israel after losing everything in the Second World War. Adam is moody, tough, and resilient. His experiences have shaped his sense of justice and how he goes about delivering it. Adam is not above vigilante justice when it’s the only way to get evildoers to pay for their crimes.
As the series, now numbering seven books, progressed, so did the history at its background. Israel, then in its infancy, grew, as did Adam Lapid and the other characters. And in the process, I grew as a writer.
In the latest book, A Death in Jerusalem, a strange thing happened. I was writing history on the same day I watched it repeat itself.
It was on January 7, 2021, and I was watching footage from the day before in Washington DC, where protestors stormed the Capitol Building. Most of the world, I think, was stunned by what we saw, but I was doubly so because A Death in Jerusalem begins with what I now call “Israel’s January 6 Moment”, an event that took place 69 years before, in January 1952.
At the time, the Israeli government sought approval from the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to commence negotiations with Germany for reparations for the Holocaust. Many Israelis were against this, viewing it as a desecration of the dead.
On January 7, 1952, with the Knesset in session, a massive demonstration took place nearby. And when it ended, hundreds of demonstrators stormed the Knesset.
Imagine the scene: a cold winter day. Demonstrators hurling rocks at the Knesset, charging to get inside. Police officers battling them with truncheons and tear gas. Hundreds were injured.
(This image was taken by Fritz Cohen, Government Press Office. It shows Menachem Begin giving a speech in Frumin House with David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir in attendance.)
I wonder if ever again I shall find myself writing history and watching it repeat itself, tragically or otherwise. What I can say is writing the Adam Lapid series has been an illuminating ride so far, and I hope to continue learning from it and growing with it, both as a writer and a human being.
Thank you to all the Chicks for inviting me to write this guest post. And if you’re in the mood to take a stroll on the old streets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, check out the Adam Lapid series.
Readers, have you read a series set in another country? Do you have any questions for Adam?
SYNOPSIS FOR A DEATH IN JERUSALEM:
He knows who did the killing. Now he needs to figure out why.
Israel, 1952 – Private detective Adam Lapid tries to do the right thing. He may end up in prison because of it.
To stay free, Adam must work for a man he hates. The case is unusual. The identity of the killer is known, but the motive is a mystery.
As Adam scours the historical streets of West Jerusalem in search of the truth, he uncovers a connection between his case and a recent unsolved murder. He also meets an enigmatic woman with plenty of secrets and is hunted by a ruthless cop who blames Adam for a crime he didn’t commit.
In a case full of action and twists, Adam must use all his skills to solve the mystery. And if he doesn’t watch his back, he may end up paying the ultimate price in his quest for justice…
Jonathan Dunsky is the author of the Adam Lapid historical mysteries series. The Adam Lapid books are set primarily in the early days of the State of Israel and feature private investigator Adam Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and former Nazi hunter. The sixth novel, The Auschwitz Detective, is a prequel that takes place in Auschwitz-Birkenau in the summer of 1944.
Dunsky has also written a standalone crime thriller called The Payback Girl, in addition to publishing a number of short stories, in various genres. He resides in Israel with his wife and two sons.