By Michal Hartstein
The first sentence of Michal Hartstein’s mystery novel, Hill of Secrets, reveals two of the 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, a detective with the Israel Police. The husband she divorced was a man she was still in love with. The reason for the divorce was that her husband wanted children and she did not.
Now she finds herself investigating a quiet, hard-working man no one seemed to have any complaints about who kills not only his wife, but his children, ages seven, five and four months. The crime scene evidence shows that Meir Danilowitz was the killer. But what drove him to such a desperate act?
As Hadas does her work, she peels away layers of illusion to reveal a toxic marriage, unsustainable debts, a troubled elder son in need of professional help and a rift between Meir’s wife Hanni and his wealthy parents that had reached the point where Hanni refused to let Meir’s parents see their grandchildren.
Meanwhile, Hadas has struggles of her own: an eternally critical mother, the pressure of her family, friends and Religious Zionist community to follow a traditional path of becoming 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 the number of children they have. The material essentials for supporting a growing family — both actual and aspirational — demand that both parents work. This, in turn, takes them away from the kids they claim to want.
As Hadas delves deeper into the secrets of the Danilowitz family, 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.
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 and worked in finance initially. Five years after graduation, she 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. After being a weekend writer, she decided to pursue it 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 available on Amazon.com.
Since the publication of HILL OF SECRETS in 2013, she has been planning a series of books focused on Israeli women and international issues. 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?