The Bones and the Book
It’s Seattle, 1965, and Harry Mazursky, having recently screwed up financially so that he is eager to make a redeeming deal, is on his way to sell an insurance policy in a “post-coital euphoria so great that he was actually trying to compose a poem.” Unfortunately he is neither a poet nor a person with a future. Moments later an earthquake brings “a challah-sized chunk of cornice” down onto his head. This startling opening to Isenberg’s lively mystery introduces many of the book’s strands: Judaism, money shortages, cruel blows by fate, the American dream, marriage, sex, emotional endurance, and some unlikely but surprisingly poetic users of language.
The other timeline in this book, the late 1880s, comes in when Rachel, Harry’s widow, sees an earthquake-related headline: “Yiddish Book Uncovered with Human Remains.” Rachel feels drawn to what turns out to be the diary of a Ukrainian girl, Aliza Rudinsk, who immigrated to America. When Rachel learns the girl was murdered, she feels compelled to solve the crime. Aliza’s story involves many hucksters, creeps and some surprising friends as she wends her way from New York through the American frontier. Which of them killed her? In addition to this engaging murder mystery from the past, Rachel has a number of issues that require sorting — how to rebuild her life, what kind of man was her husband, what kind of man is her suitor, what to do about her daughter, and who the mysterious woman is who loaned her father money. The connections between Rachel’s life and Aliza’s will surprise you, though the author avoids clichéd overly-easy coincidences. Isenberg has given us a novel with rich resonances of history, religion, and family.