cover image The 12th Commandment

The 12th Commandment

Daniel Torday. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-19181-6

The provocative if undercooked latest from National Jewish Book Award winner Torday (The Last Flight of Poxl West) concerns a small enclave of Islamic Jews in Ohio. Zeke Leger works as a magazine editor in New York, but returns to his college town of Mt. Izmir for the funeral of his friend Gram Silver, who died by suicide. There, Leger reunites with lost love Johanna Franklin, who successfully prosecuted Nathan Fritzman, the leader of the Dönme sect, for the murder of his son, Osman. According to Johanna’s case, Osman had violated the 12th commandment of the sect’s religion by sharing its secrets with outsiders, thus providing motive to Fritzman. Dönme members, however, insist that Osman was killed by someone else. Leger smells a story and lingers to work on it, and is granted access to the Dönme, a group of rifle-toting Hasids who freely indulge in cannabis and view Fritzman as a messianic figure. Leger’s less-than-captivating search for his own life’s purpose and meaning overwhelms the question of who really killed Osman, and the author never gets back to Gram, which makes the funeral and Johanna’s connection to the case feel like narrative contrivances. Still, the premise allows for some engaging insights on the potential and perils of faith. The author has a bold vision, but this doesn’t quite hang together. (Jan.)