Murder in pen and ‘Ink’

Amir Atzmon's literary debut surprises.

amir atzmon311 (photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
amir atzmon311
(photo credit: BARRY DAVIS)
There is a widely held notion that holds that converts to a new religious avenue, mindset or cultural ethos have to try harder to prove they are, indeed, bona fide members of their adopted group. Then again, five-and-a-half years after relocating from Tel Aviv, budding author Amir Atzmon appears to be entirely at home in Jerusalem.
“I used to live near Gan Meir, right in the center of Tel Aviv, but I really feel that I belong in Jerusalem. It’s great to go to Tel Aviv once or twice a week to visit and meet up with friends, but not to live there anymore. Maybe there’s something similar in the vibrancy of that area of Tel Aviv – the heart of Tel Aviv – and Jerusalem. Actually, when I still lived in Tel Aviv, I was told on more than one occasion that I looked like I came from somewhere else.”
Atzmon was subjected to a similar observation here, too. “On one of my first visits to Mahaneh Yehuda, I was rummaging through some tomatoes and the stallholder said to me, ‘You must be from Tel Aviv.’ That was funny.”
Still, Atzmon doesn’t spend all his time in the holy city. The 26-year-old divides his days between studying literature at Hebrew University and learning the relaxing intricacies of yoga in the city of his birth down at the other end of Highway 1. Inbetween his academic commitments, he also finds time to frequent numerous haunts around Jerusalem.
His debut literary offering, Ink – A Jerusalem Murder Mystery, which is partially available online (, is something of a literary whistle-stop jaunt through some of the most popular cafes, bars and clubs in the capital.
Atzmon is clearly comfortable in his Jerusalem milieu.
“There are all those literary tours you can go on and see, for example, lots of places where [poet] Yehuda Amichai spent time at in Jerusalem,” Atzmon notes. “My book is sort of the same thing, only the other way round. The book itself takes you through the city and, I think, brings all those places to life.”
The venues that appear in Ink are also part of Atzmon’s regular routine in Jerusalem.
“I was used to writing about places and things that were far away from me – that’s a sort of escapism. But I eventually realized that for me, it’s best to write about the things and places I know well. I spend time in all the locations that appear in the book.”
Not only does the storyline take you to different places in the city, but Atzmon decided to get his readers actively involved in the book by holding public readings in the locations featured in Ink. A couple of months ago he held a launch party at the Uganda bar-café-music venue on Rehov Aristobolus, which included a reading of the opening chapter, with the listeners getting into the spirit of the story – something along the lines of devotees of The Rocky Horror Picture Show who attend screenings of the cult movie in full regalia and recite whole passages of the script verbatim. “We had people dressed up like cadavers, with fake blood and ghoulish makeup,” Atzmon recalls. “It was great fun and really brought the story to life.”
The next reading will take place on September 2 at Hamarakia on Rehov Coresh at 9 p.m.
Atzmon first toyed with the idea of following a literary path at the age of 16, although he finds it hard to pinpoint a defining source of inspiration. “I started dabbling in poetry and prose, but when you’re a teenager you’re not really conscious of who you draw from; but I think Leonard Cohen’s poetry did influence me to an extent.”
He started taking writing more seriously after he started university. “I began learning about writing techniques and genres and discovering a wealth of literature from different cultures. That broadened my outlook and my understanding of the area immensely,” he says.
Atzmon says his interest in the murder mystery genre was sparked by watching TV shows like CSI with his mother. “There is something so scientific and precise in CSI,” he says. “There are things like DNA testing and also a strong esthetic aspect to it.”
The latter element is omnipresent in Ink. Some of the main characters are art students at the Hebrew University’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
That comes across with abundant clarity on the Web site, which offers a commensurately graphic taste of the book. The chapters are posted on the site as Atzmon proceeds through the public readings.
The author succinctly describes the book as “an urban, artistic, literary project,” adding that it is “the sort of event you can always find in our city.” This event, however, is not just a regular urban Jerusalem occurrence. We’re not talking light rail issues or the latest clash in the ongoing religious-secular or Israeli- Palestinian divides here. This is – pardon the pun – a full-blooded murder mystery.
In addition to CSI, Atzmon was moved to set hands on the keyboard by a 2005 neo-noir film called Brick, which was the screenwriting and directorial debut of Rian Johnson, who was later to add The Brothers Bloom to his filmography. Brick centers on a hardboiled detective story that takes place in suburbia, and most of the main characters are high school students.
Sounds more than a little familiar.
“Brick is a masterpiece that takes place in ‘Smalltown USA,’ and I really wanted to do something along similar lines. You know, you have all these books and movies like [Agatha Christie’s] Murder on the Orient Express, but it’s never in your own backyard. I wanted to write something small and local with which anyone could identify.”
The proof of the pudding was soon to be found in the eating. “After I finished the book, I gave it to a friend to read and she spent all night reading it. She told me she got very scared because she felt the murder could really have happened where she lives. So I knew the book works and that I’d managed to convey that sense of reality and ‘here and now.’”
Fans of Agatha Christie-style murder mystery efforts should take note that they may not get a handle on the plot as it evolves. Atzmon purposely followed an intricately meandering storyline development with many a surprise en route. “There’s a twist in the end, and I don’t think too many people will be able to guess the outcome. I don’t want them to get the plot too easily. I don’t like the classic style with the detective spelling everything out for the readers in plain terms. Maybe, with hindsight, the ‘murder mystery’ tag doesn’t exactly fit Ink. There are lots of clues along the way, but there are also plenty of open ends.”