Hill of Secrets

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By Michal Hartstein

The first sentence of this mystery novel reveals the two most important things you need to know about this story. “A month before Meir Danilowitz got up in the middle of the night to shoot his entire family and then himself to death, I divorced my husband.”

The speaker is 33-year-old Hadas Levinger, an Israel Police detective. She’s still in love with her ex-husband. They split because he wanted children and she did not.

Now she finds herself investigating a quiet, hard-working man who kills not only his wife, but his children, ages seven, five and four months. Evidence at the crime scene shows Meir Danilowitz was the killer.

But what drove him to such a desperate act?

As Hadas investigates, she peels away layers of illusion to reveal a toxic marriage, growing debts, a troubled elder son in need of professional help and a rift between Meir’s wife Hanni and his wealthy parents. Hanni was refusing to let Meir’s parents see their grandchildren.

Hadas has struggles of her own. Her critical mother, her family, her friends and her Religious Zionist community pressure her to follow traditional and become a wife and mother.

Hartstein takes a scalpel to middle class life in a moderately religious community. Hadas observes a community where a couple is judged as parents, Jews and Israelis by how many children they have. The material things to support a growing family — both actual and aspirational — demand both parents work. This takes them away from the kids they claim to want.

As Hadas digs deeper into the Danilowitz family’s secrets, she exposes a gut-wrenching corruption of Jewish and family values.

This is an unusual mystery in that you are told in the first line who the murderer is. Yet Hartstein sustains suspense to the very last page. Although the books deals with many sociological issues in Israeli society today, Hartstein never becomes academic or pedantic.

If this story intrigued you, you may want to read D. A. Mishani’s book THE MISSING FILE.

The Author: Michal Hartstein (1974 – )

Born in Ramat Gan, Israel, into a religious family, Michal Hartstein studied economics and accounting at the University of Tel Aviv. She worked in finance then earned a master’s degree in law.

From age 26 to 32, Michal was immersed in trying to conceive first one child and later, unsuccessfully, a second. After the birth of her son, she realized she no longer wanted a career in finance. She decided to pursue writing full-time.

Her first book, CONFESSION OF AN ABANDONED WIFE, was published in 2011. Originally published as a blog, it has been issued in English as a trilogy.

Her third novel, DEJA VU, won the Israel Nanowrimo contest. It is about a girl who wakes up in a hospital two weeks after her 16th birthday unable to remember her past. As she recovers and moves forward, she remains dissatisfied and unhappy with her life. At 32, she again wakes up in a hospital believing she is 16. Can she forge a new and more satisfying life?


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