A mystery tale from the hills of Galilee

Meet Muriel Moulton, a prolific writer who has mastered both fact and fancy in her adopted hometown of Tivon.

muriel moulton 88.298 (photo credit: )
muriel moulton 88.298
(photo credit: )
Muriel Moulton is a writer to be admired for her determination and motivation. Those who write, paint or do other creative work and find it hard not to be distracted can be encouraged by Moulton's rule that the mornings are sacred for work. For she is a prolific writer and for many years had articles, news features, short stories and reviews published in magazines and journals as diverse as Fiction, New York Stories, London Magazine, The Harvard Review, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, the Chariton Review and Calyx. She is also an accomplished poet who contributes regularly to the annual anthology of Voices, the Israel Group of Poets in English. In her native Chicago, Moulton taught US History and Constitution, but when she immigrated to Israel in 1978 she started to teach English at the University of Haifa and for the Israel Air Force. With three grandsons also living in Haifa, her time was fully occupied. But retirement opened up a new, exciting phase in her life. In her cool living room in Tivon, the charm of the book-lined interior, pictures and plants is matched by the stunning late afternoon hillside view from her small garden balcony. Moulton claims that she is not a sociable person and likes her solitary occupation, but she is deeply interested in local politics in Tivon, volunteered for many years with Magen David Adom and is now active in the local Civil Guard. She is enthusiastic about Tivon, a beautiful old-established town between Haifa and the Lower Galilee. "However, over the past few years the schools were neglected, the town became dirtier, and like so many places in Israel, a violent and delinquent society was emerging," she says. Moulton campaigned for the present mayor Allon Navot, who has achieved a turnaround by focusing on improving the schools, rehabilitating old buildings and going out into the streets with the cleaners and reviving pride in the town's citizens, a revival of community spirit and protection of the environment. Her home is indeed her haven, for in her writing of news features she has traveled to Lebanon and visited all the trouble spots in Israel. As her grandsons grew up and her family needed less of her time, she enjoyed her seclusion in Tivon and focused more on writing fiction. Her recent intensive efforts culminated in her first full-length novel, A Prayer for Gershon Levin. Writing is a lonely life, but Moulton's volunteer work and involvement in local politics expose her to the human factor essential for fiction writing. "There is no shortage of ideas - one just needs the time and energy," says Moulton, who at 77 is upright and bright-eyed, and certainly not short of energy. "My mornings are for writing; but even if I have a block, I clean around the house and things come into my head," she says. A Prayer for Gershon Levin is a Holocaust story but does not take place in Europe in the middle of the 20th century. Fast forward to contemporary Chicago - a reclusive Holocaust survivor with a harrowing history is found dead in his home and the verdict is suicide using cyanide. There is no suspicious evidence, and Gershon Levin was known to have been depressed and lonely. From here, the book becomes a mystery/suspense novel. Although he is buried in unconsecrated ground by a rabbi who has no logical reason to doubt the coroner's verdict, Kaddish is silently recited by one young woman who is not a relative of the deceased. Only three people do not believe the verdict: Levin's neighbor Armand Holly, a gentile University professor who had occasionally shared music and supper with him; the lone woman mourner, Pearl, a Jewish researcher who had befriended Levin and was Holly's lover; and Levin's brother Uri, who arrived from Israel after the funeral. It transpires that Uri is a secret agent and is convinced that his brother would never have committed suicide - and certainly not with cyanide, for the brothers had narrowly escaped death in a concentration camp and together survived labor camps and the loss of their entire family. Uri leaves no stone unturned in the search for evidence that his brother's death was an act of murder. Acquaintances of Gershon do not want to get involved, but slowly Uri and Holly discover that Gershon had hired a private investigator to infiltrate the neo-Nazi party that was fast gaining power in Chicago. The reader follows the investigator into the terrifying depths of torture and sadism carried out by a psychopath neo-Nazi leader until the ultimate exposure of the conspiracy that cost Gershon his life and linked his murder with the deaths of other prominent Jews in the area that had been dismissed as suicides. Armand, a gentile academic, was sympathetic to his elderly neighbor for he had been present at the liberation of Auschwitz. But Uri succeeded in making him understand the ultimate horror of the Nazi ideology. "The accepted motivation of the Nazis is understood to be anti-Semitism and genocide was a means to an end, but that is rationalizing something that has no rationale. Their ultimate aim was to take God out of man," says Moulton. The novel, published and distributed by Rabid Press in the US, is available from August 1. When Moulton wrote the book, she did not follow an outline. "I got a voice, strong and irresistible telling me something important," she says, adding that she writes from the inside out. "I haven't finished with Armand Holly," she says of the character who would have preferred to be the innocent bystander and not get involved. By setting the story in contemporary America, Moulton is addressing the questions of her generation. "We got through wars and said 'Never again.' We celebrated and said that was the end of war, but it never ends," she sighs, explaining that her own husband was crippled in action. That point was reinforced later in the day of our interview in the quiet and green Tivon, when Hizbullah began its assault on the north of Israel.