Two New Short Stories Out

During the past week I published two new short stories, both in the modern fantasy genre (what some would call Urban Fantasy).

The first is Grandma Rachel’s Ghosts, which is a story dear to my heart. It tells the tale of a young boy named Jacob who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel. When he is five, during a visit to his Grandma Rachel, he sees two women in her kitchen, dressed in thick woolen dresses, unfit for the summer heat of Israel.

It turns out that the two women are the ghosts of Esther and Tova, Grandma Rachel’s sisters, both of whom died in the Holocaust. Only Jacob and his grandmother can see the ghosts, and for Jacob this opens a window into his familial past. That past is often wonderful, but can also be a dark, despondent place, where he doesn’t want to look, even though he may have to.

There are some personal elements from my own life in this story, which is why it is dear to me. If you want a heart-warming (and sometimes wrenching) tale of love and family, get a copy of Grandma Rachel’s Ghosts.

The second story is Tommy’s Touch, which tells the tale of Rose and her husband Tommy. Tommy has the magic of healing. He can cure the injured and sick, at the expense of his own energy and health (which he can regain over time).

Tommy uses his gift to work for criminal elements, curing their operatives when they get shot or injured. As he gets older, the work takes more of a strain on him, and his employers are not the sort who believe in sick leave.

Rose, fearing for Tommy’s health, knows that if Tommy doesn’t stop, he will die. But what can she do about it? Find out in Tommy’s Touch.

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3 Audio Recommendations

I’m a big fan of audiobooks, and recently I had the pleasure of listening to some very good ones.  I thought I’d share some of them with you guys, but instead of limiting myself to recommending single books, I thought I’d share some good multi-books collaborations between authors and narrators that I particularly enjoyed.

Sean Barrett reads Jo Nesbo

The collaboration between narrator Sean Barrett and Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is an auspicious one. Barrett narrates Nesbo’s Harry Hole mystery/thriller series, as well as a number of standalone novels, such as The Son and Headhunters. He does a stellar job with all of them. Scandinavian crime writing doesn’t come much better than Nesbo, so these audiobooks are a treat for all crime fiction lovers.

Scott Thomas reads Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand is an underrated writer of horror novels with a comedic element. But a Strand novel is a much deeper work of art than what comes to most minds when the horror genre is discussed. Strand knows how to write about relationships, friendships, and love. He writes with enormous heart and his books are an emotional ride, not just a bloodfest (which he also does very well).

I’ve listened to three Jeff Strand audiobooks read by Scott Thomas, who seems to have the perfect voice for these novels. Mainly, he knows how to do children and teenagers very well, age groups that feature prominently in Strand novels. The three books — Pressure, Wolf Hunt, and Dweller — are excellent, and Thomas’s reading raises them from their high level in text to even more soaring heights in audio.

Grover Gardner reads Lois McMaster Bujold

Grover Gardner is one of the most beloved audiobook narrators in the world. Lois McMaster Bujold is a masterful science fiction/fantasy writer. It’s no wonder that the joining of their talents has produced such fantastic audiobooks.

Gardner narrates Bujold’s successful Vorkosigan Saga, which includes more than fifteen novels and novellas, so far. He brings to life each of Bujold’s full characters and does justice by Bujold’s riveting plots and luminous prose. Science fictions fans have made Bujold one of the most bestselling authors in the genre, which is entirely deserved. The Vorkosigan Saga audiobooks are a big hit in and of themselves, and Gardner’s spotless narration is one of the reasons.

So, if you’re looking for audiobooks to listen to, check out my recommendations. I’m sure you’ll love them.

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What I’m Working On Now

I have a number of projects lined up at the moment. Two small ones, one medium, and one large.

The two small ones are two short fantasy stories that have already been written and edited. What remains is writing the blurbs and doing the covers. I plan on using the same cover artist who did the covers for the four short stories I’ve published so far. I just need to find a quiet hour to do the blurbs.

The medium project is a horror western story (awesome combination, in my humble opinion), that’s about 10,000 words long. I am still in the process of editing it myself — before having it professionally edited, of course.

The big project is the third Adam Lapid novel, though one which takes place before The Dead Sister and The Auschwitz Violinist chronologically. This novel is turning out to be longer than I had anticipated, though the end is fast approaching. I hope to be finished with the writing in three-four weeks. Then I will go over it, remove embarrassing parts, clunky sentences, and obvious typos, and make sure that all the parts and pieces of the story work as I envision them.

Then, a few rounds of professional editing, a cover, and it will go live in both ebook and paperback form. I am excited about this novel. I hope it turns out as well as I think it will.

And, on the back burner of my mind, I have a few ideas percolating for more Adam Lapid novels, and novels which do not feature him. These include an assassin novel, a spy/political thriller, and a light-hearted comic crime novel, which should serve as a series opener.

So a lot of things cooking. I hope you’ll like the dishes when they’re done.

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The Auschwitz Violinist – Chapters 1 & 2

Here are chapters 1 & 2 of my novel The Auschwitz Violinist, the second book in the Adam Lapid mystery series.

Chapter 1

I was buying a newspaper at a kiosk when the man called my name. He was on the opposite curb, holding up a short hand. The rest of him was short as well, from his legs to his torso to his graying hair. He was young, too young to be turning gray. But there were many such men and women about. War ages the young almost as fast as it kills the living.

His name eluded me, though his face seemed familiar. When he came across the street and said hello to me in Hungarian, I figured out where I had last seen him. It was in 1944, and we were in the same barracks at Auschwitz. For a short while at least. Then he simply wasn’t there one night. I assumed he died—that was what usually happened to people in Auschwitz who were there one day and gone the next. Prisoners were regularly shot for one infraction or another, or beaten to death for the amusement of the guards. But there he was, six years later, on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, dressed in a blue short-sleeved shirt, black slacks and shoes, his arms browned by the blazing August sun. Kaplon, his name was. Yosef Kaplon.

“Thought I was dead, didn’t you?” he said after crossing the street. He smiled widely. He had a gold tooth on the right side of his mouth. I wondered idly when he got it. Couldn’t have been before the camp. The guards would have yanked it out of his mouth.

“It was a safe bet,” I said, shaking his extended hand. He had long fingers and a soft, uncalloused hand. He was no day laborer.

“That is very true. Of course, I knew you were alive for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when I opened up a copy of Davar and saw your picture plastered across half a page. And what a headline: ‘Adam Lapid, Hero of Israel.’ It was quite impressive what you did in that battle.”

I felt a throb in my chest where a coin-shaped scar marred my skin. The story of my wartime exploits had been published without my knowledge—I was lying in a hospital in Tel Aviv in what amounted to a coma at the time, trying to survive two bullet wounds I had taken in Israel’s War of Independence. Those had been dark times for the new country, and the people needed heroes. I fit the bill. It got me a lot of attention at the time and sometimes still did. I didn’t like it. Killing was sometimes necessary and justified, and occasionally satisfying, but I wasn’t interested in the glory that came with it.

“A wild exaggeration,” I said.

“Not from what I read. I was very happy to read that you survived your wounds.”

“How did you survive?” I said, changing the subject. “The camp, I mean.”

His face turned somber. “I owe it all to my mother.”

He must have read the question in my eyes, for he smiled again. “Instead of telling you, why don’t I show you. Are you busy tonight? Come to Café Budapest at eight o’clock, and the secret of my survival will be revealed.”

#

Café Budapest smelled thickly of goulash. Meat—like eggs, butter, and a host of other food items—was still strictly rationed, so the owner probably had some connections he pulled to get his supply. There was a bar along the left side of the room. Two flags hung side by side on the wall behind it—the Israeli and Hungarian flags. You would have thought the two countries were firm allies. Scattered about the room were a dozen or so round wooden tables. All of the tables were occupied. The atmosphere was festive. Men and women sat over steaming bowls and tall glasses filled with wine or vodka or brandy, chattering in Hungarian and Hebrew, laughing, smoking cheap cigarettes. I looked around for Kaplon, but he wasn’t there.

I took one of the tall stools at the bar. The barkeep was an amiable-looking, overweight man in a gray shirt and spotless white apron. He had the ruddy cheeks of a habitual drinker, but not the broken capillaries that signify excess. His hair was dark, just a little bit receding, and his wide mouth was overhung by a thick, Stalin-style mustache. He brought me a bowl of goulash with a hunk of dark, coarse bread on the side. The smell brought water to my mouth. I dunked the bread in the broth, stuck it in my mouth, and thought of my mother. The memory came unbidden, like a trespasser. The way she’d made it was different—thicker, with a bit more salt—but it was close, too close for comfort. For a moment, I regretted ordering it. But food was food, and it was delicious.

“Good, eh?” the barkeep asked, smiling the smile of a merchant who knew the value of his product.

I nodded.

“For a moment there,” he said, “you looked like you were someplace else.”

I said, “I was back at what used to be home.”

His smile faltered momentarily then returned. “That’s as good a compliment as I can expect.” He held out a meaty hand. “Milosh Dobrash.”

“Adam Lapid.” His handshake was firm, his palm warm.

We chatted for a while, exchanging background stories. He had come to Israel in 1928 along with his wife. They’d worked a variety of jobs for some years, struggled like everyone else, and in 1936 opened the café together. His wife was the one who made the goulash, and any other dishes on the menu, and he took care of the day-today running of the place. The café became a gathering place for Hungarian Jews. A place to talk a familiar language, eat familiar food, and share pleasant memories.

It was the last part that had kept me away from Café Budapest. I did not want to share any memories of Hungary. Dredging up the pleasant memories would require digging through whole layers of unpleasant ones.

I told Milosh a little of my history, how I had been a police officer in Hungary from 1933 to 1939, the first Jewish detective on that country’s police force, and that I worked as a private detective after anti-Jewish laws led to my firing from the police force. I left the worst things out, but I could see that Milosh was smart enough to fill in the gaps.

“You look like a policeman. That’s what I figured you were when you came in.”

“I’m not a policeman anymore. Just a detective. For things the police can’t or won’t handle. Or when you’d rather not get the police involved in your affairs.”

Milosh nodded sagaciously. He didn’t ask me to explain why I chose not to be a policeman in Israel.

When I told him that I was there to meet Yosef Kaplon and asked if he knew him, Milosh broke into a smile. “Sure I know him. You don’t know what he’s here for, do you? Well, you’re in for a special treat. He should be on in ten minutes or so.”

After bringing me some more bread, which I used to soak up the dregs of the goulash sauce, Milosh went to pour drinks for other patrons. I sat with my thoughts for a moment, wondering what had possessed me to come to Café Budapest that night, when I’d been avoiding it for so long. It had something to do with Yosef Kaplon and what he’d said about his mother. I wanted to hear his story, and he had just smiled enigmatically when I’d tried getting it out of him earlier that day, saying that I should come to the café at nine.

So here I was.

Milosh came back to where I sat. He nodded toward the other end of the café. “Here he comes.”

I turned and there was Yosef Kaplon stepping out of a side door in the far corner of the café. I noticed that there was a small elevated platform snug against the wall, with a single high stool standing on it. Kaplon, dressed in an immaculate dark suit and silver tie, stepped onto the platform. Conversation ceased and an anticipatory silence fell on the café as he bowed deeply. It was then that I noticed that he was holding a violin in his left hand, a bow in his right.

Kaplon wedged the violin under his jaw and began to play. It started out slow and soft, like the overtures of a hesitant lover. There was a searching quality to the melody, an exploration of sound. Then it turned low, and the silence in the café seemed to grow deeper as I, and the rest of the patrons, strained our ears to pick out every note. Sadness and grief were what those notes inspired, and no one in that room would have had to look hard to find ample cause for both. Through it all, Yosef Kaplon stood with his lower body rigid and his torso shifting to accompany his bow movements. He kept his eyes closed throughout the piece. His expression changed continuously, though, shifting from a smooth-faced tranquility to a rough-looking grimace.

It was only when he had finished the piece that I realized that my heart was hammering in my ears and that I had held my breath toward the conclusion. Some of the other patrons, women and men both, were dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs, and one middle-aged man was weeping openly. I had never been a connoisseur of music, but Kaplon’s playing was masterful. It had the transformative quality of great art—it took you for a short while to another place and time.

This was but the opening piece, and over the next hour or so, Kaplon played many more. Some were cheerful, others morose, and all were beautiful.

When he had finished, people lined up to shake his hand, and I saw a few of the patrons slip money into it. He was shaking hands with his right hand, wiping sweat off his forehead with his left, and beaming.

Afterward he came to the bar. Milosh had set a glass of pálinka brandy for him, which Kaplon downed in three great sips before asking for another.

I complimented him on his performance. He waved a dismissive hand, but I could tell he was pleased.

“So now you know how I survived.”

I told him I didn’t.

“It was the music, Adam. It was the music.”

#

“Do you remember the day you arrived at the camp?” Kaplon asked.

I winced.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Do you prefer not to talk about it?”

“With you, it’s all right.”

“But not with everyone?”

“They weren’t there. They wouldn’t understand. It would be pointless to try to explain.”

He nodded, took the brandy bottle Milosh had set on the bar at his elbow, and poured himself another glass. It was his fourth, but apart from a flush in his cheeks, he was showing no signs of the liquor. I was done drinking for the night, but I had gone through a similar number of cigarettes. Most of the patrons had already left the café, and Milosh was conversing with a couple of stragglers by the door.

“You’re probably right,” Kaplon said. “I was there and I don’t understand it myself. But do you remember the day you arrived, the moment you got off that awful train, that there was band music on the platform? There were barking dogs and barking men in green uniforms, and I couldn’t tell you which scared me more, but amid all the pandemonium and utter dread, there was also music. Do you remember?”

I did and told him so.

“The Germans had this idea: If they had some music playing when a new shipment of Jews arrived, the prisoners would think they’d arrived at a nice place and would be passive, easy to control. Did it work on you? Did the music fool you when you arrived at Auschwitz?”

“No,” I said. “Not for a moment.”

“It didn’t fool me either, though I was just shy of seventeen. A mere boy. But that place…it was…I’m not sure I have the words for it. Even the blind and deaf would have sensed the wrongness of it. Still, who could have imagined what they had in store for us? That the people of Bach, Strauss, and Brahms could resort to such savagery.”

I didn’t tell him what I had already figured out for myself, that it was only a people as cultured and advanced as the Germans who could have done such a thing. A less advanced people would not have had the planning and organizational skills required to create the death industry the Germans had erected, with the gas chambers, the slave camps, the efficient transportation of prisoners to the camps, their swift elimination within, and the disposal of nearly all trace of their existence. Savages, at least in the way Europeans used the word, would have been much less methodical and efficient. And fewer Jews would have been murdered at their hands.

He peered into his glass, downed its contents, and refilled it. He took another sip and said, “Did you come to Auschwitz alone?”

“No.” I didn’t elaborate. What would be the point? They were all dead. I was the only one of my family left.

“I came with my mother,” he said. “I was an only child. She had me after five miscarriages. The doctors told her it would be risky for her to be pregnant, but she wanted a child, so she kept trying until I was born. My father died when I was two, so my mother raised me by herself. It wasn’t hard—she came from a well-to-do family, had inherited money from her parents. I had a comfortable childhood.”

His eyes were wet, glistening. He took a quick gulp from his glass and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.

“It was my mother who got me to play the violin,” he went on. “Made me play it, is more accurate. It was part of being a cultured man, she said. I hated it. Didn’t want to practice. But she got her way. She had that ability. Forced me to practice every day. Eventually, I got good. Not stellar but pretty good.”

“You sounded stellar tonight,” I said, and meant it.

He looked around at the few people who lingered in the café, then back at me. “These people, they are starving. Not just for the food and other goods that are now rationed. That is merely a physical hunger. They’re also starving for their lost families, for their memories, for some taste of culture and art and music. I sound so good to them, and to you as well, just as an average flower would look magnificent in a desert. No, I know what I’m worth. I’m no Jascha Heifetz or Isaac Stern. I’m not and would never be a top violinist, however much I want to be. But I was good enough for the Germans, good enough for Auschwitz.”

Kaplon told me the rest of his story. He told me how one day, a German guard came and took him from his work detail. He was sure that he was being taken to his death; instead the guard led him to another barracks, one housing musicians from one of the camp orchestras. One of the violinists had caught typhoid and died. Another violinist in the group had been one of Kaplon’s teachers back in Hungary. He had spotted Kaplon in the camp one day and told the guards that he was a worthy replacement for the dead violinist. And so Kaplon was conscripted.

“We had all sorts of duties in the orchestra,” Kaplon said. “We played marching music in the mornings when the other prisoners were led to their work details. Do you remember that, Adam?”

I thought back. “I do, but only vaguely. I was so tired and hungry and cold that I only heard it as noise, not real music.”

“We also played during executions. That was hard. I don’t know what the purpose of that was. Just one of the many perversions of Auschwitz. One more insanity in a world of them. Perhaps it was one more way to humiliate us.”

Kaplon fell into a momentary, pensive silence. Then he said, “The guards and the SS would sometimes have us perform for them. They would have dinner parties in their barracks or houses. This was another world, in close proximity to the prison camp, but it might have been on another planet. They had food there. Rich food and plenty of it. Things we only dreamed of. And wine and beer. Enough to drive you crazy. They would eat and we would play merry music. I remember how my stomach used to grumble during those parties; I was certain they would hear it over the music.” His face twisted in revulsion. “Sometimes they would have women there. Local Polish women. The guards were animals, even the cultured ones. I hated performing before those pigs, but each party was a godsend. I would often be able to filch some food, slipping it under my shirt for later. It helped tremendously. This was dangerous, of course. Had I been caught, I would have been shot. But it was worth the risk.”

He poured himself another glass.

“But the hardest assignment was playing on the train platform when the newly condemned arrived. I’ll tell you something, Adam: Being on that platform, watching those ragged, exhausted, starving people being marched to their death, all while I played cheerful music, it’s a hard memory to shake.”

He downed the rest of the brandy. He upended the bottle and frowned when he discovered it was empty.

“And your mother?” I asked.

“She died the day she arrived. From the platform they took her straight to the gas chambers. But all those violin lessons, all her badgering and prodding and pushing, they saved my life. She saved my life.”

He let out a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a moan.

“And, oh, how I miss her, Adam. Every single day, I do.”

Chapter 2

It was four days later, on Sunday, the 27th of August, that I learned Yosef Kaplon was dead. His death merited a small mention on an inner page of Davar. I read it while seated on a bench in Dizengoff Square, smoking a cigarette. The paper said that a Yosef Kaplon had been found dead in his apartment the previous Friday, and that the police had determined that he had committed suicide. The paper did not state the method of suicide, but it did list the time and place of the funeral. My watch told me I had thirty minutes to get to the cemetery. I quickly got to my feet and headed there.

There weren’t too many people at the funeral. The Jewish faith didn’t look kindly on suicide; perhaps that explained the sparse attendance. Or maybe not everyone who wanted to come could get away during a workday. Or, more likely, people got uncomfortable when someone they knew killed themselves. It made you start thinking, and that was never good.

It was a hot day and my clothes and hair quickly turned damp with sweat under the glaring sun. A few wispy clouds trailed across the sky. A faint westerly wind shifted the air about without cooling it. I stood with folded arms as the ritual of burial was carried out. I breathed in the scent of freshly dug earth, only half listening to the prayers muttered by a young rabbi who seemed eager to finish his part and leave in pursuit of some shade. As Yosef Kaplon’s diminutive body was lowered into the ground, I looked down at my shoes and considered the wrongness of it. A survivor of Auschwitz was supposed to live out his days, grow old and gray, die in his bed. I recalled how during the War of Independence, new conscripts to the Israeli Defense Force, some of them mere days off the ships that had brought them from war-ravaged Europe, were handed a rifle and uniform and sent to plug a hole in this unit or that line. Many of them died in their first battle. There was something about those deaths that went beyond the usual wretchedness of war.

Kaplon’s funeral was a desolate and lonely affair. There was no grieving wife, no family members with whom to shake hands or mumble some words of consolation to. There was just a handful of acquaintances and the dead body ready to be interred. It angered me that Yosef Kaplon would soon be forgotten, like so many of our people. He would have a headstone, yes, and that was more than most of the inmates at Auschwitz had, but with no close friends or family to visit it, was it really that different?

I spotted a few familiar faces among the mourners, people who had shared Kaplon’s last performance with me at Café Budapest. And Milosh Dobrash was there, dressed formally in a white shirt and tie, a black suit and hat. His grim expression made him look older. Unlike myself, he mumbled along with the religious texts, not missing a single amen.

The grave digger started shoveling the dirt on top of Kaplon’s corpse. Then he offered the shovel to the attendants. A few took up the offer and cast a spadeful or two of earth into the grave. I did the same. When I turned to hand over the shovel to the next man, I found Milosh standing behind me, his mouth set in a hard line beneath the canopy of his mustache.

Milosh did not satisfy himself with a single shovelful, nor with two, nor with ten. He kept on pouring the dirt until there was none left.

#

I couldn’t say why I stayed behind to watch Milosh as he finished filling the grave, then packed the mound flat with the back of the shovel. He straightened with a sigh and handed the shovel back to the grave digger. His face was red from exertion, sweat dripping from his forehead and cheeks. His mustache looked wet and matted. He took out a handkerchief, sopped away as much sweat as the cloth would take, and folded it back into his pocket.

“I’m not fit for this kind of work,” he said.

“Too much goulash and bread will do that,” I said.

Milosh chuckled dryly. “True, true.” He turned to look at the fresh grave and started bending down before stopping midway, wincing in pain. “I did something to my back. Can you get me that stone, Adam?”

I picked up the stone he was pointing at and another for myself. I placed both stones on the grave and wondered where this particular custom had come from. We stood in silence and watched the grave digger stick a small sign into the grave with “Yosef Kaplon” printed on it, along with the dates of his birth and death. Then it was done.

We left the cemetery together and walked slowly west along Trumpeldor Street. I offered Milosh a cigarette, but he shook his head. I lit one for myself and was five drags into it when Milosh invited me to come with him to Café Budapest. “I want to discuss something with you, Adam. Do you have the time?”

I said that I did. I realized that I was not surprised by his invitation. I had expected it. It was why I had stayed behind with Milosh by the grave. That feeling of wrongness, of unfinished business, wasn’t mine alone. Perhaps Milosh would supply me with some answers, or maybe he would raise new questions. Either way, I wanted to hear what he had to say.

The café was closed and empty. A sign hanging on the inside of the door informed passersby that the café would open at eight o’clock that night. Another sign gave the details of Kaplon’s funeral and exhorted people to attend. Milosh unlocked the door and we stepped inside. He closed and locked the door after us and removed the sign with the funeral details.

I followed him to the bar. He went behind it, rummaged in a low shelf and came up with a squat bottle three-quarters full with purplish liquid. “Slivovitz?” he offered.

I shook my head and he made me a cup of black coffee. He took the bottle of slivovitz and a tall glass with him to one of the tables. All the chairs had been turned over on the tabletops, and we took two of them down and sat on them. He held the bottle high, gazing at it mournfully.

“Years ago, before the war, shortly after we opened this place, I got the chance to buy a few cases of slivovitz and pálinka. Top quality. Now, only a little is left. You can’t get this stuff anymore. The Soviets have cut Hungary off from the rest of the world. Bulgaria, Poland, and Czechoslovakia are also blocked off. Soon this will be gone and all we’ll be able to serve is beer and wine.” His upper lip curled in disgust, making his mustache jump up and down like a circus bear. “I only serve this stuff on special occasions, and I think today qualifies, don’t you?”

I gave no answer and he didn’t wait for one. He poured himself half a glass, downed it, grimaced, then poured himself another.

“Want to know something funny? I’ve never liked slivovitz. Don’t know why I drink the stuff. It burns my throat and tastes like spoiled plums.”

I said nothing. People harmed themselves in all sorts of ways for all sorts of reasons. Some drank; others killed themselves. We were there to talk about the latter. From my years as a policeman I’d learned never to interrupt a man about to talk. Whether you were interviewing a suspect, a witness, or anyone else, letting someone talk in his own time tended to get you the best information.

He said, “But it does cloud your mind when you need it clouded.” He sighed. “This…this business with Yosef. It doesn’t sit right with me. I knew the man. He played here once or twice a week for nearly a year. It doesn’t sit right.”

I sipped my coffee, waiting for him to continue.

“I imagine that this kind of thing always comes as a shock to people. And to be honest, I was not too close to Yosef. I liked him, and I enjoyed having him play here, and it gave me pleasure to see how well he was received. But I did not see him much outside of the café, and if you’d ask me how he spent his days, I would have no answer. So perhaps my shock at his suicide is misplaced. And yet, I feel that I should have known something, sensed that something was about to happen. Am I wrong in feeling this way, Adam?”

I said, “You feel what you feel. There is no wrong or right about it. I would say, Milosh, that people are good at hiding their troubles. If you feel any blame for what happened, don’t. It isn’t your fault.”

He sipped some more brandy and wiped his mustache dry. “It isn’t that. Or not exactly that. I know that I had no responsibility to prevent him from taking his own life. It’s just that I feel the need to know. I don’t think I’ll know peace until I do.”

“Know what?”

“What drove him to it, what his life was like. Anything that can explain this.” He gave me a level stare. “Can you do it, Adam? Can you find out?”

“I can try,” I said.


Click here to get your copy of The Auschwitz Violinist

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New Story – Family Ties

I have a new story out today called Family Ties. It’s available here on Amazon.

 

Here is the story description:

Mike has always had his cousin Jimmy’s back. Ever since they were kids, stealing candy from a local store.

As they got older, and the crimes got bigger, Mike even did time in prison for Jimmy.

Now, Mike is a recently released ex-con, and he’s determined never to go back to prison. But when Jimmy comes to him for help, Mike doesn’t turn him away.

Not even when he senses Jimmy is about to drag him into trouble again.

Not even when the blood begins flowing.

Not even if it means risking his own life.

Family Ties is a story about murder, violence, crime, and the lengths we go to help those we love.

———————————

I’m rather proud of this story. I wrote the first draft in two or three sittings, then let it lie for a while before I came back to it and gave it a fresh reading. I found that I liked it a lot and went over it with a fine-tooth comb, removing the odd typo and clunky sentence.

Naturally, my professional editor managed to find even more typos when she went over it, but that’s how it works. You are always semi-blind when it comes to what you wrote yourself.

If you’re in the mood for a quick and exciting read, check out Family Ties. You’ll love it.

Update: There is now a print version of this story as well. You can find it, and the ebook version, on the same page on Amazon.

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The Palestinian Threat That Makes Peace Impossible

News about the Israeli-Palestinian moribund peace process have filled newspapers and programs over the past few days, and with good reason.

First, there was the UNSC resolution which declared all settlements to be illegal. The Obama Administration, breaking with decades-long tradition, abstained from the vote, thus allowing its passage. Some reports indicate that the Obama administration did not just refrain from vetoing the resolution, but was active behind the scenes to ensure all other UNSC members voted in favor of it.

Second, there was the enraged reaction to the resolution by Benjamin Netanyahu. This included the recall of ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, canceling aid programs to countries which supported the resolution, and having dressing-down talks with ambassadors of the fourteen countries which voted for it. I don’t recall an instance of such drastic diplomatic steps by any Israeli prime minister.

Finally, there was Secretary John Kerry’s speech yesterday, in which he laid out his vision of what an Israeli-Palestinian peace process and conflict resolution might look like.

But the biggest news item, one whose significance all news organizations that I’ve read have neglected to appreciate, is a threat made by long-time Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat.

Responding to reports that Donald Trump may finally fulfill a promise made by a number of former US presidents and move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Erekat threatened that this would kill the peace process, cause widespread chaos in the region, and lead the Palestinian Authority to rescind its recognition of Israel.

Let’s respond to his threats one a time:

One, The peace process is already dead, Mr. Erekat, and you are one of its executioners. You and your colleagues rejected offers for a state because it involved allowing the Jews to have one of their own. Your terror campaign in the 90s and the first decade of this century decimated the peace parties in Israel and led to the prolonged rule of right-wing parties.

Two, the region is already in chaos, or haven’t you noticed? Libya is a mess, Syria is no more, Egypt is facing frequent terror attacks, Jordan and Lebanon are in a precarious situation, Iraq and Yemen are both countries at internal war. I doubt moving an embassy could lead to a much more chaotic situation than exists now.

Three, if you’re threatening that the Palestinians rescind their recognition of Israel should the US move its embassy to Jerusalem – not to the contested eastern part of the city, but the western part, which Israel has controlled since its inception –  what guarantee does Israel have that should a Palestinian State come to be that it wouldn’t rescind its recognition of Israel at the earliest pretext?

What is the worth of any peace agreement with such a threat hanging over its head?

Can somebody answer this question? President Obama or John Kerry, perhaps?

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Rabbi Shmuel vs. The Lizard Demon Queen – New Short Story

My second fantasy comedy short story is out today. It’s called Rabbi Shmuel vs. The Lizard Demon Queen, and it’s a laugh-out-loud gem of a story. If you want a good laugh, it’s what you need.

The story is on sale for $0.99 on Amazon.

Here is the description:

A Laugh-Out-Loud Battle Between Good And Evil

When the special telephone in his office rings, Rabbi Shmuel knows it’s going to be one of those days.

God is on the line, and He has a job for Rabbi Shmuel.

The Lizard Demon Queen has escaped her hellish prison and is about to unleash destruction upon the world.

God commands Rabbi Shmuel to stop her.

Armed with nothing but his faith, silver-plated Torah, traditional religious garb, and a backpack filled with painfully bad Jewish food, Rabbi Shmuel sets out on a dangerous quest to save the world.

Rabbi Shmuel vs. The Lizard Demon Queen is a super-funny fantasy short story for people who like laughing.

Warning: This story contains demons, bad kosher food, a very hungry dragon, a semi-naked woman, talking lizards, and one nasty mother-in-law.

Get your copy of Rabbi Shmuel vs. The Lizard Demon Queen here

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New Short Story – The Omission of Her Majesty’s History

I have a new short story out, a fantasy comedy called The Omission of Her Majesty’s History. You can get it for $0.99 on Amazon. So far it’s in ebook form only, but soon I will also have a paperback version for it.

Why a paperback version for a short story?

Because some people prefer paper to digital, and because I believe giving as many people as possible what they want is sound business logic. Besides, the costs of having a paperback version these days approaches zero. The cover designer did the ebook and paperback cover for one lump price. I did the paperback layout myself using templates provided by Createspace, which does the printing. Since this is a Print On Demand service, I don’t have to pay for inventory or storage. Anytime a reader buys a paperback of my story, it gets printed and shipped to them.

My only cost is a bit of time investment laying out the text and uploading the book to an additional service. I will also pay for a proof book to make sure everything looks as it should, but that’s it.

But all that’s in the future. At the moment, there is only the ebook of the story. I have to say I am proud of this story. It’s funny, with great characters and plot. It takes place in London and stars a stodgy history professor with antiquated views and tastes. There is also a mischievous demon in the story, which I am sure would appeal to all fans of humoristic fantasy.

The story behind the story is interesting. I came by the title as part of a story-writing challenge I was involved in. The challenge called for opening a dictionary on three random pages and picking a random word from each page. The words I came up with were: Majesty, History, and Omission.

Then I put my creative cap on and came up with a character, a setting, and a problem for that character. And the story evolved from there. Quite nicely, if I do say so myself.

Here is the ebook description:

Professor Reginald Nelson Thackery is having a very bad day.

His loyal secretary of many years, Mrs. Finnibottoms, has informed him that his book on the history of the greatest English monarchs has been printed without the chapter on Her Majesty the Queen.

The book is due out today, and a copy has been sent to Buckingham Palace.

Thackery fears the Queen will consider his leaving her out of the book as a major affront. And he will be the laughing stock of the entire university.

Facing imminent professional ruin, and seeing his hopes for a long-sought-after knighthood dashed, a desperate Thackery is willing to try anything. Including turning to a mischievous Indian demon with a cruel sense of humor for help.

The Omission of Her Majesty’s History is a laugh-out-loud fantasy short story for anglophiles and people who like to laugh.

Get your copy of The Omission of Her Majesty’s History here.

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The Auschwitz Violinist Is Available

The Auschwitz Violinist, The second book in the Adam Lapid mystery series, is now available for purchase on Amazon, in both kindle and paperback.

This novel takes place in 1950, about a year after the conclusion of the first book in the series, The Dead Sister. Like its predecessor, it is a standalone mystery, though I would recommend reading The Dead Sister first as it introduces the characters, not just of Adam Lapid, the holocaust survivor, former Nazi hunter, war hero, and private investigator, but also some secondary characters.

I wrote The Auschwitz Violinist without an outline or much planning. I started with a daily word quota in mind, and I took great pains to stick to it, no matter what life threw at me.

The story evolved sentence by sentence, scene by scene, until one day I knew who the villain would be and what his motive was. Once that decision was made, I needed to keep on writing to see how Adam Lapid would figure out the mystery. I actually wrote the confrontation scene at the end of the book before I wrote some of its middle sections, as I had no idea what to put in them at the time.

This novel is a murder mystery first and foremost, but it’s not just that. It deals with the manner in which the Jews in Israel who had lived there during the Second World War saw Holocaust survivors. To say that those Jews did not understand what their brethren had gone through would be a colossal understatement.

The novel also touches on how survivors strove to fight their demons and rebuild their life. Many survivors suffered from mental problems and survivor guilt. Many were left utterly alone in the  world, with their entire family murdered by the Nazis. How they continued to function is a question I’ve often wondered about. The conclusion I came to is that the desire to live a full life is a powerful thing.

I hope you will enjoy The Auschwitz Violinist, and I’m looking forward to getting your feedback, questions, and remarks.

Click here to buy your copy of the Auschwitz Violinist

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Is Israel’s Global Standing The Worse It Has Ever Been?

Israeli opposition politicians frequently bemoan what they say is Israel’s poor–and worsening–global standing. One such politician, head of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid, even claimed that Israel’s current global standing is the worst that it’s ever been.

As someone who lives in Israel and takes part in political discussions around the dinner (or breakfast or lunch) table, I can attest that this view is shared by a sizable part of Israel’s citizenry, even though it has no basis in history or fact.

As part of the research I conducted in the writing of The Dead Sister and The Auschwitz Violinist (soon to be published), both of which take place in the first three years of Israel’s existence, I read a number of newspapers of the time. They included frequent and detailed reports of Israel’s shaky relations with other countries and the harsh challenges the fledgling country faced in the international arena. Compared to those years, Israel is enjoying a veritable golden age in the sphere of foreign relations.

Don’t believe me? Let’s do a quick historical comparison by focusing on various areas of the world and their relations with Israel.

The Arab and Muslim World

Soon after Israel became independent, the entire Arab world declared a complete and utter boycott of the new country and made it difficult for foreign companies to do business with or in it. There was a long list of products that could not be sold in Arab countries if they were also sold in Israel. These included automobiles, beverages, food items, cosmetics, and many other products.

I still recall that when I was a boy, one of the most popular car models in Israel was Subaru. The reason was simple: they were the only, or one of the only, Asian car manufacturers who sold their cars in Israel. The rest buckled under Arab pressure and effectively boycotted the Jewish State.

Today, I know of no car manufacturer or other major vendor who would publicly boycott Israel (in its entirety, some do not conduct business beyond Israel’s recognized borders, in the Golan Heights and West Bank). And the Arabs, though they may still formally maintain their longstanding boycott, generally don’t make a fuss about it.

When Israel was founded, it had no diplomatic relations with any Arab nation. Today it has a nominal, though not actual, peace with two of its neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, and a variety of covert avenues of cooperation with other Arab and Muslim nations.

While Arab dislike of Israel is still rampant, there is a marked thawing in the upper echelons of power toward Israel. It appears that some Arab leaders have come to the correct conclusion that their conflict with Israel serves little purpose and brings nothing but harm to their own countries.

Looking at the Muslim world beyond the Arab countries, one sees further signs of improvement. Israel’s mutually-beneficial relations with Turkey are such that even the personal animosity of Turkish President, Erdogan could not sever them. Israel also has ties with some of the former Soviet republics, now independent Muslim nations. Some of these ties are extensive, commercially and militarily.

Far East

Israel’s past international isolation went far beyond the Arab and Muslim world. It was not until the 1990s that China and India established formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Since then, trade between Israel and the two Asian giants has grown tremendously.

India, in particular, has grown considerably warmer toward Israel. There is extensive military trade and cooperation between the two nations; Israelis by their many thousands visit India; and Indians, on average, have a highly favorable view toward Israel.

China is generally cooler toward Israel, but this had not stopped trade from blossoming.

Israel formed formal relations with Japan and South Korea much earlier than with China and India, but trade used to be minimal. Now it is booming. Korean and Japanese businessman and politicians have visited Israel and there is little doubt that Israel’s ties with these two important nations have grown stronger. The same can be said of Israel’s relations with other Far East nations.

Eastern Europe and Russia

Israel did have formal relations with the Soviet Union and its client states in Eastern Europe in its early years, but those relations were severed in 1967, when Israel defeated the Arabs in the Six Day War.

Today, following the collapse of the Communist bloc, Israel has friendly relations with all the countries in Eastern Europe.

And while Russia still sells weapons to Israel’s enemies, its attitude toward Israel has improved by leaps and bounds. Israeli leaders have visited Russia several times in recent years, and Vladimir Putin has visited Israel. Putin and Netanyahu seems to understand and respect each other and know how to work together.

When Russia became more heavily involved in the war in Syria, Israeli and Russian diplomats and officers sat together to ensure that neither country’s vital interests would suffer as a result of the other’s actions. Russia is not a friend of Israel, but it is no longer the enemy it was during the Cold War.

Africa

African countries have generally been cool toward Israel, especially since the 1970s. Part of the reason is Israel’s support of Apartheid South Africa; another part is simple numbers. There are more Arabs than Jews and Israelis, and they have more countries and a bigger economic and diplomatic pull.

However, a warming of relations seems to be in the works. Recently, PM Netanyahu visited a number of countries in Africa and met with several African leaders. Trade is growing. The fight against Islamic terrorism which rages in several hot spots in Africa has led to even greater cooperation with Israel.

When Netanyahu recently boasted in front of an incredulous UN General Assembly that in the near future the automatic majority against Israel in the UN will be a thing of the past, he had his eye on Africa.

South and Central America

Relations with South and Central America are not as rosy as Israel would want. There have been various sour notes over the past few years, with some countries, such as Venezuela, behaving in an outright hostile manner toward Israel. The general sentiment is not a positive one, which is a reversal of what it was during Israel’s early years. However, it is not virulent. Generally speaking, when the socialists is in power, relations suffer. When right-wingers are elected, things improve.

United States

The United States of America is Israel’s greatest ally and provider of military and diplomatic aid. Notwithstanding the tension between Netanyahu and Obama, and between Netanyahu’s government and the Democratic Party as a whole, the level of American support for Israel far exceeds that which was given during Israel’s early years.

Back then, The US maintained a weapons embargo on Israel. Now it sells Israel advanced weapons systems. Back then, the US was pressuring Israel to cede the Negev (southern part of Israel) to the Arabs and to admit a large number of Arab refugees. David Ben Gurion refused, and no such demand is made today. Back then, the general public in America was indifferent to Israel; now it is largely supportive.

There are people in America who are hostile to Israel, and there will be challenges to Israel in the future regarding public opinion in the US. But in the foreseeable future, Israel is likely to continue to enjoy a level of support in America which it could only dream of when it was founded.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand

These three countries are largely supportive of Israel, at about the same level as they were in the past.

Western Europe

The one area of the world which Israel does see diminishing support is in Europe. When Israel was founded the prime minister of Belgium announced he would gladly fight side by side with the Jews against the Arabs. Such a sentiment is unlikely to be voiced today by any national leader. After the Six Day War, Israel enjoyed a massive wave of support in Western Europe. Today the situation is different.

There is open hostility toward Israel in several western European countries. Sweden is a prime example.

A part of the British public is also hostile toward Israel. The Labour Party in Britain is led by a group of politicians which seem to view Israel with nothing but contempt. Some even hold policies that would bring the Jewish State to its end. However, relations with Great Britain used to be worse. British officers actively fought against Israel in its war of independence. The commanding officer of the Jordanian Legion was a British officer. This would be unthinkable today.

Israel’s relations with western European nations are likely to remain troublesome, mainly due to the changing demographics of Europe. As Muslims become a larger proportion of western Europe’s population, and as political parties seek to woe these new voters, the policies and positions taken toward Israel will likely be more negative. Whether this would change should Israel relinquish its hold on the West Bank is unclear. The sentiment in Europe may remain negative and new demands on Israel may be made.

Summary

Israel’s international standing is not stellar, and there are worrying signs for the future, but it is far better than it was for much of the country’s existence. Mr. Netanyahu could do a better job of getting along with and earning the trust of world leaders, and his government could modify some of its positions to better accommodate world opinion, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Israel is enjoying good relations with many countries. It also has varied opportunities for further improvement if it plays its cards right. Whether it will do so remains an open question.

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