A Deadly Act begins with a famous Israel actress, permanently disabled by a car accident, revealing who murdered a colleague five years earlier. At least she thinks she knows. She doesn’t have proof, however—only circumstantial evidence and a woman’s intuition. So, she hires Adam Lapid to investigate a case that has gone long cold.
This book is the fifth installment in Jonathan Dunsky’s Adam Lapid mysteries. (I reviewed the previous installments here,here, here, and here.) All the books are set in Tel Aviv in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence (1947–1949). Lapid is a former Hungarian police officer, Auschwitz survivor, Nazi hunter, Israeli war hero, and now private detective.
Set in 1951, A Deadly Act is best characterized as hardboiled, featuring a brooding detective haunted by his past living in a city beset with difficulties on all sides: economic rationing, political squabbling, and ever-present worries about the Arabs. On top of that, a black marketer has taken a strong dislike to Lapid, threatening to harm him. Even the murder victim—a young actress is a well-regarded theater company—has a tragic backstory, her unsolved death only adding to the sense of tragedy that pervades the novel.
And yet, Lapid is the kind of detective who, once he’s pulled a thread, keeps pulling until the entire mystery has unraveled, exposing the murderer. My primary criterion for a mystery is whether it keeps me turning pages to find out what happens next. My secondary criterion is whether it stays within the boundaries of my wiling suspension of belief. A Deadly Act meets both criteria. It kept me reading, and it didn’t require credulity of me.
Toward the end of the novel, as the plot took yet another direction, I wondered for a moment whether the book story was too long. In the end, however, the revelation of the murderer made sense of the plot twists that had gone before. The book is dramatic. Fittingly, its denouement takes place on stage.
If you like the hardboiled feel of mid-twentieth-century American crime novels, I recommend Jonathan Dunsky’s Lapid mysteries. A Deadly Act is a nice addition to the series, and I look forward to the sixth novel. Don’t keep me waiting too long, Mr. Dunsky!
Jonathan Dunsky, A Deadly Act: An Adam Lapid Mystery (Self-published, 2020).
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