Tabloid reporter Rebekah Roberts investigates a Hasidic woman’s murder in Brooklyn in Dahl’s debut, Invisible City.
Are you anything like your narrator, Rebekah Roberts?
On the surface, yes. I was a freelance reporter for the New York Post for three years and now work for CBSNews.com covering crime. And my mother’s Jewish and my father’s Christian, like Rebekah’s parents. But Rebekah’s personality is different from mine. She’s braver than I am, and angrier.
Rebekah is suddenly thrown into the strange, closed society of Hasidism. Do you personally have a connection with this world?
There were no ultra-Orthodox Jews in Fresno [Calif.] where I grew up. My grandparents were what I thought of as “very Jewish,” but you wouldn’t know it to look at them. When I got to Brooklyn, I saw all these people in black and thought, they are like me, and yet not at all like me. Then, when my husband and I found an apartment we liked, the real estate agent told us the previous occupant had committed suicide. We took it anyway, and I learned from neighbors that he had been Hasidic and was shunned for being gay. A few months later, the Post sent me to cover another Hasidic suicide, a groom who jumped out the window of his honeymoon suite. I couldn’t stop thinking about who these people were. And when writers get curious, we write.
In the book, it seems as if the NYPD often allows the Hasidic community to police itself, even when it comes to murder. Do you think this will cause a stir?
I don’t know. I don’t mean to suggest that all suspicious deaths in that community would be treated like the one in my book. Observant Jews are typically buried within 24 hours and their bodies are not supposed to be disturbed. If the victim’s family is wealthy and powerful—like the husband of the murder victim in my book—is it feasible for them to pressure authorities into waiving a full autopsy? I think so. Civic leaders want to maintain a good relationship with the ultra-Orthodox because, among other things, they vote in blocks.
Will we be seeing more of Rebekah Roberts?
Yes. My second book is due in two months! It begins where Invisible City ends. We’ll meet Rebekah’s mother, and Rebekah will write about another murder, this one in an ultra-Orthodox community in upstate New York. It will have a different feel than Invisible City, though. I’m playing with structure a bit, and the story is more complicated this time.