The Orthodox answer to CSI

Author Rochelle Krich's crime novel explores what happens when a rabbi's daughter runs wild.

rochelle krich 88 (photo credit: )
rochelle krich 88
(photo credit: )
Now You See Me: A Novel of Suspense By Rochelle Krich Ballantine 317pp., $13.95 In her latest novel, mystery writer Rochelle Krich tackles a rarely discussed issue in modern Orthodox life - teenage depression. In Now You See Me, protagonist detective Molly Blume gets more than she bargained for when she investigates the apparent kidnapping of a rabbi's daughter. What follows is a gripping tale of deceit, revenge and murder. The edge-of-your-seat mystery is accompanied by a stark commentary on today's Orthodox community; even in strict religious communities, things are not always as they seem. Internet use and abuse is a central focus of Krich's novel. "I really wanted to deal with the new reality of the Internet's role in our lives. A lot of people find that risky Internet chatrooms are their only recourse for loneliness, and women aged 20 to 40 can be sucked into relationships that become dangerous and even fatal," Krich explained in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. In the story, Blume is charged with locating Dassie Bailor, the teenage daughter of a prominent California rabbi and school principal. The plot thickens when Molly discovers that Dassie was not kidnapped, but has run away with a man she met in a chatroom. If such an act of defiance by a straight-edged rabbi's daughter's sounds unlikely, Krich claims that truth imitates fiction. "Interestingly enough, after I had finished writing the book, I heard about a case in Israel in which a daughter of a rabbi [caused a scandal] with someone she met online." What inspired Krich's plot was, in fact, the feasibility of Dassie's plight. "A rash decision like this would actually be tempting for a girl in a sheltered community who finds herself out of place. Dassie is the quiet middle child who on the surface is doing well." The book's title, Now You See Me, illustrates the irony of Dassie's parents seeing who their daughter truly is only after she has disappeared. "With teenagers, you don't really see what's going on all the time. People put on postures. 'I'm doing okay,' they say, but in reality they're not doing okay. "Within the Orthodox community, tremendous stress exists in Jewish high schools. Observant teen girls are pencil-thin and nonetheless are careful about what they eat. This is both sad and frightening," says Krich. Krich taught English in Orthodox high schools, and has witnessed the turmoil many of these girls suffer. Dassie, Krich's teenage heroine, cuts her wrists as a cry for attention. "I saw a young lady become a cutter. She went from wearing short sleeves every day to sleeves all the way to the wrist. And it wasn't because she became so frum (religious) all of a sudden." Anorexia is a huge problem for teens today, and the Orthodox realm has not been exempted. "Parents in the community are in denial. 'Oh no, my daughter's fine,' they'll say. The belief that you have to be thin to be beautiful has taken over our schools. I'm so grateful I'm not a teenager now." Another problem for detective Blume is the Bailor family's reluctance to go to the police. If word of Dassie's "elopement" got out, the Bailors' reputation would be shattered. "In this shidduch [arranged marriage] society, everything is weighed so carefully when making a match, right down to what color shirt the guy is wearing on the date. Something as scandalous as a daughter running away with a strange man would blow this family completely apart," says Krich. Black sheep and illnesses are investigated as part of routine background checks that families do before allowing their children to date; Dassie's transgression could potentially ruin her siblings' chances at a good match. Investigator Blume is therefore required to work both thoroughly and discreetly. Krich is accustomed to interweaving sensitive Jewish topics into her novels. In the past, she has written about an aguna - a woman whose husband will not give her a get, or Jewish divorce. After a period of writing on non-Jewish topics, Krich had a change of heart. "I wanted to write about my world, my traditions, what I think is beautiful. But is there a market for Jewish mysteries?" Krich soon discovered that a market indeed exists, and is not limited to Jews. "I want to be different by breaking stereotypes, to show that Orthodox Jews are mainstream. And yes, that means that you might have a killer among Orthodox Jews. "I don't intend to engender anti-Semitism, yet at the same time I don't want to create characters that are Pollyanish. I want to write about real people, layered characters." Despite the controversial picture she may paint, Krich doesn't think that Now You See Me will provoke criticism from the Orthodox community. "A rebbetzin of a major Orthodox organization in New York adored it. She thinks the book's message is important. Sticking your head in the sand and saying that Orthodox communities have no drugs, no cutting, no sexual experimentation and no eating disorders only worsens the problem. "I've only received one bad reaction: 'It's people like you who cause problems,' one man said... but he hadn't even read the book."