The Auschwitz Detective is Jonathan Dunsky’s sixth murder mystery featuring Adam Lapid. (I reviewed the previous novels here, here, here, here, and here; along with a Lapid short story here.) Whereas those mysteries were set in Tel Aviv in the years immediately following Israel’s independence, for which Lapid fought, The Auschwitz Detective is set in July 1944 at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Lapid, a Hungarian Jew, is a prisoner. It is, in my opinion, Dunsky’s best story so far.
Auschwitz was the chief murder factory of the Nazi regime, and it operated at peak killing efficiency from May–July 1944. Lapid arrived weeks before novel’s weeklong action begins, and his wife and two daughters were ripped from his arms upon arrival, then immediately gassed and cremated. Imminent death threatens Lapid and the other prisoners on every page, casting a pall of hopelessness and futility over the entire novel.
When Lapid learns that another inmate has been killed—not by the Nazis but by a fellow prisoner—his detective insights kick in, and he begins to work the case. (Before the Nazis overran Hungary, Lapid had served as a police officer.) It is the search for a murderous needle in the midst of a field of murderous haystacks, but Lapid’s sense of justice demands the mystery be solved.
It is in this quest that we find the humanity amidst Auschwitz’s bestial horrors. There are, in addition, friendship, love, and occasional moments of mercy in the story, They present glimmers of hope beyond the doom that we know is coming for the prisoners, though not, we know, for Adam Lapid. The Auschwitz Detective thus serves as a prequel to Dunsky’s previous stories, providing pathos and texture to Lapid’s personality and motivation.
I ask two basic questions when I evaluate murder mysteries: Did the story keep me turning pages to find out what happens next? And did the story push too hard against my willing suspension of disbelief? A yes and no answer, respectively, makes for a successful mystery. By that standard, The Auschwitz Detective succeeds wildly. I read it in one sitting, and its grim portrayal of life in that horrible concentration had the ring of authenticity.
So, five stars from me for Jonathan Dunsky’s latest Adam Lapid story, and I look forward to the next, which I understand is already in the works!
Jonathan Dunsky, The Auschwitz Detective (Self-published, 2020).
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