Thursday, June 16, 2022

Review of 'The Deadly Scrolls' by Ellen Frankel

The Deadly Scrolls by Ellen Frankel (Wicked Son, May 2022) starts out like a police procedural but has many of the elements of an Indiana Jones-like thriller. A murdered Biblical professor with cryptic files on his laptop. Scholars and villains searching for hidden Temple treasures. A corrupt Old City antiquities dealer. A purple-haired American held captive to decipher an ancient scroll. And a solitary Israeli intelligent agent racing to stop a fanatical millennialist bent on destroying the mosques on the Temple Mount.

Maya Rimon must balance her career in Israeli intelligence with being a single mother trapped in a custody battle over her daughter. With a botched operation in her past, Maya sets out single-handedly to solve the professor's murder and its connection with the Copper Scroll, a genuine Dead Sea Scrolls artifact. The scroll could possibly reveal the location of the Temple treasures, or alternatively set in motion the fanatic's plan to bring about the End of Days.

Ignoring protocol and the warnings of the Israel Police and her boss at the agency, Maya travels to unexplored caves at Qumran where additional scrolls may be buried. A race across the desert and through the Western Wall Tunnels leads her to a fateful confrontation deep under the Dome of the Rock.

Like other thrillers set in the Holy City, The Deadly Scrolls occasionally fails a basic course of Jerusalem geography. It doesn't take ten hours to drive from Efrat near Jerusalem to Almog just north of the Dead Sea, for example. Implausible plot twists aside, the novel ties together real and imagined Biblical treasures with modern-day fanatics determined to use those treasures to achieve their nefarious plans.

The Deadly Scrolls is well-written and its pace moves ahead quickly, making it overall a fun read, with promises of a Maya Rimon sequel ahead.

Ellen Frankel served for eighteen years as Editor in Chief and CEO of The Jewish Publication Society. She is the author of ten books, among them The Classic Tales; The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols with Betsy Teutsch; The Five Books of Miriam; The Jewish Spirit: A Celebration in Stories and Art, and The Illustrated Hebrew Bible, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. She has also written lyrics for a number of musical works. Frankel and her husband, Herb Levine, divide their time between Sarasota and Maine.

Originally published on The Times of Israel.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

'The Burgas Affair' Added to the National Library of Israel

An unexpected message came to me recently on Messenger.

"I discovered 'The Burgas Affair' on the Internet. I work for the National Library of Israel. We are obligated to collect every book published in Israel on behalf of future generations, and to safeguard Israeli culture."

The sender promised to send me additional details by mail and two weeks later an email arrived.

Congratulations on the publication of your book! We are honored to invite you to add it to the National Library's book collection. For the past 125 years, we have been collecting every book, newspaper, and other printed matter published in Israel. This is done so that these materials will document written work and save it for future generations. We invite you to add your book to the millions of items already in our collection.

A nice invitation? Actually, I am required by Israeli law to send my book to the National Library.

As mentioned this week in The Times of Israel, "In accordance with the 2000 'book law,' any book published with more than 50 copies in the State of Israel must send two copies to the National Library. This applies to books written in any language, including translations."

One copy of the book is made available to the general public, while the other is stored in special conditions, preserving its availability to future generations.

According to that law, published books must be sent to the National Library within 30 days of their publication date. I just learned of the law's existence now and will be sending two copies of The Burgas Affair to the library. Readers in the future will thank me. 

Photo by Hanan Cohen for the National Library of Israel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

"Heterochromia" - short story

'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.'

But name-calling could.

The names they called my grade school classmates hurt them terribly. They called Brandon 'Fatso' because of his weight; Pete was nicknamed 'Dumbo' because of his big ears. 'Geek' was the name they gave to Max, while 'Psycho' was reserved for Jason. Insults painful to bear when you are young. As for me, I had a physical feature that had so far escaped attention. I was safe from verbal abuse, at least for now. But I was worried, especially when I stared at my reflection in the mirror.

"It's in your genes," my father explained, but I didn't understand at all. What were genes, and how did my eyes get in there?

My right eye is brown and my left eye is light blue. Different colored irises. As a kid, I believed I had a birth defect, a medical syndrome that would one day require surgery.

"Your eyes didn't decide what color they wanted to be," my father reassured me. Still, I feared being ridiculed in school and avoided making eye contact as much as possible.

Some kids are born with superpowers; others get them while growing up and use them to ward off the name-calling. Max claimed he could see through girls' clothing; Pete said he could fly if he wanted to, but only when no one was looking. Jason was capable of lifting heavy objects, even a piano. He was still waiting for the police to call on him to fight crime. And Brandon had many superpowers. He could become invisible, walk through buildings, run faster than a horse, and shape-shift. I wasn't exactly sure what shape-shifting was, but Brandon boasted he could do it.

"What about you?" Max taunted me. "You can't lift anything," teased Jason. "You'll never outrun me," sneered Brandon.

I didn't have a superpower, but I had my eyes. My secret feature. But what good were they?

Many years later, I was on a date with Jenny who lived down the street; we occasionally did our physics homework together. It wasn't actually a date, per se, but rather a spur-of-the-moment outing to the mall to see 'Star Wars'.

"May the Force be with us," Jenny giggled when we sat down for burgers and fries after the film. She slurped her cola and at that moment, I thought I was the luckiest guy in our class. Then, before I could avert my gaze, she stared at me.

"Your eyes!"

I looked down at the table, at my half-eaten fast food, embarrassed. She had laughed at me and we'd never see a movie together again.

"They're special!" she said next, and I took a deep breath of relief.

Actors Robert Downey, Jr. and Kate Bosworth; dancer Michael Flatley, Canadian hockey star Shawn Horcoff; and Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer all had different colored eyes, I learned. And I heard that when Julia Roberts accepted her Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress award in 1990 for her role in the film 'Steel Magnolias', she thanked her “beautiful blue-eyed, green-eyed friend,” reportedly referring to Kiefer Sutherland. Most impressive to me in those years of my science fiction fascination was the fact that Henry Cavill, the Superman of the 2013 film 'Man of Steel', had eyes of different colors.

Heterochromia, the variation in coloration in my eyes, was something I could be proud of. They're special, as Jenny told me on that date long ago. Take that, Max, Pete, Jason, and Brandon! I had my superpower at last, and I wasn't afraid to flaunt it!

 # # #

Originally published in the anthology Otherwise Engaged A Literature and Arts Journal Volume 9. Summer 2022 (May 2022).

Image by asdf, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.