Invisible City

by Julia Dahl

Book, 2014



Call number




New York : Minotaur Books, 2014


"Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion. Neither Rebekah nor her father have heard from her since. Now a recent college graduate, Rebekah has moved to New York City to follow her dream of becoming a big-city reporter. But she's also drawn to the idea of being closer to her mother, who might still be living in the Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Then Rebekah is called to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman. Rebekah's shocked to learn that, because of the NYPD's habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, not only will the woman be buried without an autopsy, her killer may get away with murder. Rebekah can't let the story end there. But getting to the truth won't be easy--even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider. In her riveting debut, journalist Julia Dahl introduces a compelling new character in search of the truth about a murder and an understanding of her own heritage"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member debann6354
Some insight into the Hasidic community but wish it explored the culture with more depth. Perhaps in subsequent books, assuming a series will be happening, book ended as if there should be. Reporter seemed too smart and cocky for someone who just graduated college and was on her first job.
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Nevertheless was compelled to read on. Would like to know more about Rebakah's mother, book II in the series would most likely deal with that issue.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
I am fascinated by tales of people living within extremist religious communities. As is Rebekah Roberts, abandoned daughter of an Orthodox Jewish woman, and stringer for a NYC newspaper. Rebekah has been raised by her Christian father and stepmother, but has always felt the loss of her mother
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Aviva, who returned to her Orthodox family after giving birth to her.

When a woman is found nude and dead, with her head shaven, in a scrapyard belonging to a prominent Brooklyn Hasidic family, Rebekah gets the call and is approached by an NYPD police officer who himself is a renegade Hasid. Saul recognizes Rebekah as Aviva's daughter. The murdered woman is Rivka Medelsohn, the pregnant wife of a wealthy community leader whose young daughter had died the year before. There are enough red herrings (kosher?) for Rebekah to take on the investigation for the newspaper and to put herself into danger.

There's a great feel for New York in a bitter cold winter here, the characters are vivid, and the tale is compelling. The reader will learn much about the closed Hasidic community and will eagerly await Rebekah's next assignment.
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LibraryThing member PatienceFortitude
An excellent mystery that delves into the culture of the Hasidic community in New York
LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
I really enjoyed this book - had a hard time putting it down. The pacing is pitch perfect, the characters interesting, and the story takes into unfamiliar worlds - top it off with topicality and voila! Entertainment!

Our intrepid heroine is Rebekah, a young reporter trying to live her dream in New
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York City, faced with all the challenges you might imagine. Added to this soup is her own personal mystery - what happened to her mother, a Hasidic Jew who abandoned her faith to marry and then abandoned her marriage and her daughter. Rebekah gets her first Big Break as a reporter in the Big City when the body of a murdered Hasidic woman is found in Brooklyn. Her background gives her entree into the community and its story and we're off to the races. Touching on many issues, including the ways that the Hasidic community deal (or don't deal) with sexual abuse, Invisible City is a great start to what should be a really interesting series.
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LibraryThing member EdGoldberg
I’ve been reading mysteries for decades and I’ve yet to come across a body found 50 feet upInvisibleCity in a crane in the midst of a salvage yard…that is until Invisible City, a debut novel by Julia Dahl. Rebekkah Roberts, a stringer for the New York Tribune is sent to the scene.

Nobody is
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talking but she gets the crane operator to describe seeing a leg dangling out of the scrap in the crane. The salvage yard is owned by a Hasidic Jew, Aron Mendelssohn. The police converge as does the M.E., an ambulance and an ambulance with Hebrew lettering on it…which is the one that carries away the body.

According to Jewish law, the dead are buried very quickly. With the help of a rogue cop, Rebekkah is allowed to see the badly bruised body in the funeral home prior to burial. It is murder. There are no two ways about it. And it turns out to be Aron’s wife, Rivka.

There are two stories going on in Invisible City. The first is Rivka’s exploration outside of her Hasidic roots. The second is Rebekkah’s mother, Aviva’s similar exploration, which resulted in a liaison with her father, the product of which is Rebekkah. However, Aviva abandoned her child and returned to her family, something that Rebekkah has yet to come to terms with.

There are many (well, maybe several) series about newspaper reporters solving crimes. This is a new spin with the fact that Rebekkah is a rookie and she’s dealing with the very insular Hasidic community. Dahl has created a great set of characters in Rebekkah, her friend Iris, her boyfriend Tony and rogue cop Saul Katz. The Brooklyn locale always interests me. This is not as gritty as Visitation Street by Iva Pochoda, which takes place in Red Hook, very close to the Gowanus locale of Invisible City.

I’m assuming this is going to be a series and I look forward to the next installment. I highly recommend both of the books mentioned: Invisible City by Julia Dahl and Visitation Street by Iva Pochoda.
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LibraryThing member JoStARs
Invisible City by Julia Dahl is a top-notch murder mystery set in the always-fascinating world of Hasidic Judaism. The main character is reporter Rebekah Roberts, daughter of a Hasidic mother and Christian father. Rebekah investigates the murder of a young mother and uncovers secret after secret,
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while at the same time she begins to learn about her own past. I highly recommend Invisible City and look forward to Dahl’s next featuring Rebekah Roberts.
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LibraryThing member c.archer
This book starts with a bang and ends with a bang. In between it lags just a bit, but not to the point of being off-putting. Rebekkah is a young stringer reporter for a tabloid paper in NYC. She is assigned the story of a naked, dead woman found by a crane operator as he was loading scrap metal
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onto a barge. While waiting for information, she runs into several Hassidic Jews, including a young boy who she is able to talk to for a few minutes. This connection extends throughout the book as she finds out the the boy is the son of the scrap yard owner as well as the dead woman. To make the story more interesting, Rebekkah herself is the daughter of a Hassidic Jewish mother who deserted her father and her when Rebekkah was only 6 months old. She has dealt with her feelings about her mother's desertion, as well as her curiosity about what happened to her mother throughout her life. The story thread is quite interesting with the slight exception of the back story of tabloid journalism. The ending is dynamite and a shocker.
I recommend this book for most readers. Although it seems to be styled as a mystery, it would hold the interest of many people who enjoy reading about other walks of life. The information about communities of Hassidic Jews is interesting, as well as compassionate, thanks to the author's background. The world of tabloid reporting is a bit seamy, however I would highly encourage anyone trying the book to keep reading through some of the slower spots, since the ending is spectacular and so worth it.
I thank the publisher, author and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this story.
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LibraryThing member PatienceFortitude
An excellent mystery that delves into the culture of the Hasidic community in New York
LibraryThing member Jaylia3
The varied elements of this novel combine to make this both a compelling personal story and a suspenseful mystery. These include a homicide in an insular religious community that to some extent operates under its own laws and a complexly drawn main character with a troubled family history and a job
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that has her running all over the city inserting herself in other people’s lives. Invisible City by Julia Dahl had me from its premise and did not disappoint as I read. I was so drawn to it I found myself picking it up even when I only had a few minutes to spare.

After graduating with a journalism degree, Rebekah Roberts moved from Florida to New York City to look for a job in her field and possibly be near her mother, who she hasn’t seen since she was a baby. Rebekah suspects her mother may be living in the Brooklyn Hasidic community where her mother grew up, but she doesn’t actually know. As a young woman Rebekah’s mother had a stormy period of questioning, during which she fled the Hasidic community and married, but she left her Christian husband and their baby not long after Rebekah was born and neither husband nor daughter has heard from her since. Unsurprisingly, Rebekah has abandonment issues that surface as acute anxiety.

Rebekah did find work with a newspaper, but so far she’s scarcely written a word of copy. Instead she’s on call, chasing after newsworthy events to gather information and quotes that other writers turn into articles, and that’s how she’s on the scene when the body of a murdered Hasidic woman is found in a junkyard. At the request of the woman’s husband, a powerful man in the Hasidic community, police have scaled down the investigation and the woman's body is buried without an autopsy, raising all kinds of questions in Rebekah’s mind that, because of her mother’s background, feel personal to her as well as professional. Following the threads of the story takes Rebekah into the heart of the Hasidic community, where she is both an outsider and to some degree an insider, and may lead to a career advancing breakthrough article or bring her closer, in understanding if not in person, to her as yet undiscovered mother.

Coincidence might be a little overused in the plot, but the story had me in its grips enough that I hardly cared. I don’t know a lot about Hasidic life so I can’t say how accurate the portrayal in this book is, but the community is presented in an intimate but sympathetic light, with people of various levels of belief treated by the author with respect. This is the first of a series and I will certainly seek out the next book, though it’s hard to imagine a more powerful story for Rebekah than this one. I look forward with some confidence to seeing what Julia Dahl comes up with to match it.
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LibraryThing member keywestnan
I'm always a bit worried when encountering a fictional representation of a journalist -- it can be infuriating to see the liberties taken with a role you know in reality (that's why I could only watch two hours of The Newsroom on HBO). So it was an extra pleasure to read Invisible City, a book
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whose protagonist is a young newspaper reporter working for a New York tabloid. Rebekah Roberts is a stringer, sent to crime scenes and celebrity stakeouts. Roberts' combination of adrenaline, cynicism and anxiety felt entirely familiar -- a little too familiar for comfort at times -- to me. Getting journalism right aside, this is a tightly crafted thriller that starts with the murder of a Hasidic woman in Brooklyn. Rebekah's personal story -- her mother was a Hasidic woman who had a brief affair with Rebekah's father but returned to the community shortly after Rebekah's birth -- is intertwined, but the story never loses focus. I feel like a newbie in my contemporary crime fiction reading; this is a writer I'll be following.
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LibraryThing member dianaleez
Reads like the first novel it is. Interesting information on Orthodox Jewish life in Brooklyn but little effective characterization.
A good beginning, but only that....
LibraryThing member W.MdO
Rebekah moved to NYC to pursue journalism, and she works at a New York tabloid newspaper as a stringer. She's sent out all sorts of places chasing stories that may but mostly do not yield much of anything. But on this assignment the dead body found in the Gowanus scrapyard sends her deep into the
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world of the Brooklyn Hasidim... the same community her long-estranged mother happened to come from and, abandoning Rebekah as an infant, returned to, never to be heard from again.

So clearly the plot is a bit (LOT) contrived. The heroine, fresh out of journalism school in FLORIDA of all places, sometimes seems way too jaded and tired for her age (22.) She chalks it up to her mother leaving her as a baby- she's so anxious she frequently pops lorazepam to keep herself together. I'm not usually much of a mystery or crime fiction reader, but to me Rebekah seemed too stereotypically "hard nosed" and didn't live up to her interesting backstory.

What kept me going was the glimpse into the lives of people (especially women and children) within the ultra-orthodox Jewish community. The crime and Rebekah's reporting of it is interesting, but I was more intrigued by the members of the community who were "questioning" their faith. That crime within the Hasidic community is hushed up is not news to me (in fact, Rebekah is eventually told the same thing by her editor, although much too deep into the book as far as I was concerned.)

The author left the door wide open for a sequel. I liked this book enough that I would certainly be interested in seeing what could be next for Rebekah.
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LibraryThing member muddyboy
A very unique and interesting mystery about the murder of an Hasidic Jewish woman whose body is found embedded in a scrap heap. It seems like the police don't want to investigate the crime because of the political influence of the Jewish community. A young stringer for a small New York newspaper is
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troubled about the murder seemingly being swept under the rug. She is tenacious in keeping the story in the newspaper and digging into the secretive world of the Hasidic community. I loved it, learned a lot and see why the book received all the acclaim that it did.
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LibraryThing member dorisannn
First novel nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Agatha Award and winner of the Macavity, Barry and Shamus awards, INVISIBLE CITY was most deserving of its accolades. A young stringer for a NY paper who was raised in Florida, half hoping to find her mother who left her when she was a few weeks old.
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She know her mother was an Hasidic Jew who ran away with a young man who raised Rebekah. Rebekah, now 23, feels betrayed by her mother and knows little about the ultra-Orthodox life of her mother. She finds out soon enough as she is staking out a junkyard where a woman's body is found among the rubble. It's not the police who take the body, but a group of men in black with black hats. Instead of calling the police, this Jewish community call a special group of men to get the bodies of any Jews so that they can be buried a prescribed by their law within 24 hours. Rebekah then meets a man, who tells her he is a policeman, but that the police will block any investigation if it threatens any member of the community. The man also knew and still knows her mother. An exciting story, well written and suspenseful which makes on think of the beliefs by which we were raised and the fear of the goyim by these people who learned the hard way how quickly their non-Jewish neighbors could turn against them as they did in the 30s and 40s in Europe. A sensitivetopic handled with great care and compassion by the author who was raised in a family with a Lutheran father and a Jewish mother.
As soon as I finished this I went to the second book RUN YOU DOWN and am so glad I purchased both books at Bouchercon. And more about the quest to meet her mother.
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LibraryThing member BrendaKlaassen
I listened to this book because a Library Patron suggested this author. I was really in the mood for a great mystery so I really enjoyed this author. The research this author did to have an accurate story really amazed me. I will be seeking out this author again in the future.
LibraryThing member pennsylady
Invisible City is a murder mystery presenting tabloid journalist, Rebekah Roberts.
The victim is a member of ultra Orthodox Hasidic community of New York City.

We were introduced to Hasidic custom as Rebekah artfully enters and exits their secluded environment.
We also begin to explore her
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"Just months after Rebekah Roberts was born, her mother, an Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn, abandoned her Christian boyfriend and newborn baby to return to her religion" and home in New York City.

I found the mystery satisfying.
I also appreciated the interwoven preliminary probe of this unsubstantiated mother-daughter relationship.

4 ★
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LibraryThing member AnnieMod
The world of mysteries have a lot of awards and in most years, the lists do not match - most of them have their own rules and inclinations and different books fit the different ones better. So when a debut novel seems to be on almost every best first novel list in a year, I take notice. And this
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time it is well deserved.

Meet Rebekah Roberts. She grew up in Florida with her father after her Hasidic mother, Aviva, left her when she was 6 months old and went back to New York. Rebekah never heard anything from her mother again, became a journalist and moved to New York. And never looked for her mother. Unfortunately, there are not too many opportunities for a young inexperienced journalist so she ends up as a stringer for the tabloid New York Tribune aka Trib. And one day, in the middle of a pretty cold winter, she get the call to go to where a body is found - a usual assignment for her but that one is different. Because this body is connected to the Hasidic Jews of New York, her mother's people. And she meets someone that knows Aviva - Saul Katz - an old friend of both her parents who is a policeman and is called to help becayse of his Orthodox connections and faith.

And it all starts - the police does not seem to be interested because they tend to stay away from the problems inside of the insular community, they even allow the dead woman to be buried without autopsy. And Rebekah and Saul decide not to stand for that and launch their own investigation. Except as expected, not everything is what it seems ad everyone is trying to further their own agenda.

The novel is set deep into the Orthodox Jewish community and the details of it are used as a background - very detailed but without overwhelming the story. And Rebekah is a fascinating character - complex, young in spirit (after all she is just 22) and a complete human being - with her acute anxiety, circle of friends, her sometimes overbearing boyfriend and her almost perfect father.

If I have an issue with the novel, it is the appearance of Saul just when he did - it was too coincidental. But without it, the novel won't be as complete so I am willing to accept it.

The solution proves to be tied to the community of course - both to the parts that accept their lives into it and the parts that rebel. Because we do not just see the community at its best - we also see the people that question their faith and their choices (and lack of choices).

And even if it is a mystery, it is also a novel about the Hasidim. And that makes it stronger - a lot stronger. It is well built and it is using the background to build more of the story - actions that would look alogical work here because of the norm of the society. Add to that the world of the stringers of the tabloids and the winter (because the cold and winter are almost characters here) and it is a wonderful story. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member rwt42
Read 9/16. Found as 2015 Shamus Award Finalist. Book 1 of a series. Rebekah, not strictly a private investigator but a reporter chases a story and solves a murder in the NYC Hasidic community. Excellent story and writing. Well worth following.
LibraryThing member Carolee888
Invisible City by Julia Dahl tugged at my curiosity about Hasidic Jews. They are indeed an invisible city, unless we read a book about their life by a former Hasidic we really don’t know that much about their lives. The author is a journalist who writes about crime and if the main character could
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have a wish, I believe that she would like the same career.

Rebekah Roberts was raised by her father after her mother left her when she was just a few weeks old. Her father met her mother in the religion section of a bookstore. Her mother left them to return to a Hasidic community in Brooklyn. Rebekah felt discarded by her mother and even though she was now a “stringer” for a newspaper in New York, she felt that she could never forgive her.

Rebekah gets called off her assignment because a woman’s naked body was found in a scrap yard. When Rebekah got there the lifeless woman was dangling from a machine in the air. She could make out the poor woman’s leg. Rebekah finds out that scrap yard is owned by rich Hasidic Jew. She is shocked that there will be no autopsy. A group of Hasidic men come for the woman’s body and put it in a black body bag. She talks to a little boy who says he knows that his mother was not sick when she died. That and many other clues that pile up and the idea that the police will probably not investigate this crime spur her fact finding on. She is also haunted by the knowledge that her mother was Hasidic.

Julia Dahl writes a well-researched and intriguing mystery. As the story continued, I wanted to learn more about Rebeca’s mother. This story keeps you reading and makes me want to read the next one in the series. I was already with many of the customs and traditions of the Hasidic Jews but the book increased my vocabulary and I understand more about them with that added information.

I highly recommend this book to people who are intrigued by Hasidic Jews and by mystery lovers.

I received the ARC of Invisible City from Amazon Vine for unbiased review. The thoughts and feelings in this review are entirely my own.
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LibraryThing member whatsmacksaid
Two and a half stars. I quite enjoyed this book, all the way up until the end. It was a good mystery and an interesting read--I feel like I learned a good bit about journalism basics and ultra-orthodox Jewish culture.

However: I absolutely hated the ending because it fell into tired cliches. Due to
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that alone, I would not recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member sleahey
The first in a new series, this introduces Rebekah, a journalist who is assigned a murder story in a very cloistered Hassidic community in Brooklyn, where local rules bear more weight than city police and laws.
LibraryThing member AMKitty
As a mystery, it wasn’t particularly mysterious. Villain became obvious before the half-way point.

The heroine is an annoying, incompetent, thoughtless girl starting a job as a free-lance journalist in NYC. In spite of her best efforts, she can’t seem to manage simple interview questions or
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gather basic information. She goes to the city in hopes of meeting her Orthodox Jewish mother who abandoned the family when she was an infant. Her obsessive near-hatred for a woman she never met and who never played any role in her life borders on the psychopathic. At times, the writing began to smack of anti-semiticism.

The author spent a bizarre amount of time exploring how anxiety disrupted the girl-reporter’s digestive system. I don’t find reading about every intestinal gurgle or twitch particularly entertaining. The frequency with which this twenty-something turned to popping a pill to deal with stress is alarming, to say the least.

There were a couple of gratuitous sex scenes that did zero for the plot or any development. As with the description of physical reactions to anxiety, the author seems to struggle with handling a sex scene. Their appearances were abrupt, as were their endings. They were pointless and poorly done. They should not have been included.

Overall, a disappointing story not very well told.
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LibraryThing member PatienceFortitude
An excellent mystery that delves into the culture of the Hasidic community in New York

Original publication date



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