Is­rael’s Agatha Christie

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - PRO­FILE LEIGHLEWIS

MORSE, WAL­LAN­DER, Adam Dal­gliesh, Michael Ohayon… Michael who? You may not have heard of Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Ohayon, the in­tro­verted, cere­bral hero of Is­rael’s stand-out crime writer, Batya Gur. She wrote just six nov­els fea­tur­ing the fic­tional head of Jerusalem’s mur­der squad. Each de­picts a dif­fer­ent mi­cro­cosm of Is­raeli so­ci­ety. Each un­rav­els the truth about a killing within a com­mu­nity. Each com­bines clas­sic el­e­ments of the who­dun­nit with at­mo­spheric insight into Is­raeli so­ci­ety. Ten years on from Gur’s death at the early age of 57, the time is right for her to gain a Bri­tish read­er­ship. All six books are pub­lished by HarperCollins and are cur­rently avail­able through Ama­zon.

The daugh­ter of Holo­caust sur­vivors, Gur was born in Tel Aviv in 1947. She later moved to Jerusalem where she did a mas­ter’s in He­brew lit­er­a­ture at the He­brew Univer­sity and later be­came a lit­er­ary critic for Haaretz. It was not un­til she was 41 that she wrote the first of her Ohayon mys­ter­ies. It was an im­me­di­ate suc­cess, which led to a film adap­ta­tion for Is­raeli tele­vi­sion. Though rel­a­tively un­known in the UK, she has an in­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing. In the US, her nov­els have reg­u­larly fea­tured on the New York Times best-seller list. I first be­came aware of her in an ar­ti­cle in a Span­ish Basque news­pa­per, de­scrib­ing her as Is­rael’s Agatha Christie.

Her first novel, The Satur­day Morn­ing Mur­der, set the tone for the se­ries. Eva Nei­dorf, a world renowned psy­cho­an­a­lyst, is found mur­dered on a Shab­bat morn­ing shortly be­fore she is due to de­liver a con­tro­ver­sial lec­ture. Var­i­ous sus­pects emerge as Ohayon peels back the lay­ers of Nei­dorf’s life: an Arab gar­dener at the in­sti­tute; an army of­fi­cer who was se­cretly one of her pa­tients; fel­low, en­vi­ous an­a­lysts. The de­noue­ment is both sud­den and un­ex­pected.

There fol­lowed Lit­er­ary Mur­der, in which two aca­demics at the He­brew Univer­sity are the vic­tims; Mur­der on a Kib­butz; Mur­der Duet, in­volv­ing the death of two mu­si­cians, one of whom is killed with a string from her own in­stru­ment; and Beth­le­hem Road Mur­der, which lays bare the hos­til­ity be­tween the Ashke­nazi and Sephardi res­i­dents of one of Jerusalem’s poor­est neigh­bour­hoods. Her fi­nal novel, Mur­der in Jerusalem, set in the stu­dios of Is­rael’s state tele­vi­sion ser­vice and pub­lished posthu­mously, is deeper and more dis­turb­ing, per­haps re­flect­ing her own state of mind as she bat­tled with ill­ness.

The Ohayon nov­els are not per­fect, and have their dis­tract­ing idio­syn­cra­sies. But, as a good read and a fas­ci­nat­ing insight into Is­raeli so­ci­ety, they are hard to beat.

Batya Gur

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