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Jonathan Dunsky

The Auschwitz Violinist (Adam Lapid Mysteries #3) - Large Print

The Auschwitz Violinist (Adam Lapid Mysteries #3) - Large Print

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Book Description:

What if your friend was murdered and the police wouldn't investigate?

Israel, 1950 – When private detective Adam Lapid runs into Yosef Kaplon on a crowded Tel Aviv street, he can hardly believe his eyes.

The last time they met was in Auschwitz. They were prisoners together in the same barracks. Then one day, Kaplon was gone. Adam was sure he was dead.

Soon after Kaplon tells Adam his remarkable story of survival, he’s found dead in his apartment. The police say it was suicide, but Adam isn’t so sure. He decides to investigate the matter himself.

In a twisting case that takes him from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Adam must follow a winding trail of clues to uncover the shocking solution to the mystery.

Did Kaplon really take his own life? Or has Adam stumbled on the trail of a serial killer who is hunting a unique sort of victim?

Large print. The Auschwitz Violinist is book 3 of the Adam Lapid series. 

Large print paperback 290 pages
6x9 inches (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Publication date April 7, 2021
ISBN 978-965-7795-16-3
Publisher Lion Cub Publishing

Chapter 1 Look Inside

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-to-day 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 that night.

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."

--- End of Chapter 1 ---

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Editorial Reviews

"If you only read one P.I. series, make it the addictive, evocative Adam Lapid Mysteries." - Ellen Byron, bestselling mystery author of the Cajon Country Mysteries

"Jonathan Dunsky's Adam Lapid detective series is full of twists and turns, dark secrets, and thrilling suspense--all set against the backdrop of the end of WWII." - Jewish Book Council

"Jonathan Dunsky knows how to create an intriguing mystery that keeps the pages turning." - Murray Leighton-Bailey, author of the Ash Carter thrillers.

"The Auschwitz Violinist is a page-turning historical mystery novel about madness, murder, and revenge." - Leah's Books

"I'm as smitten by Adam Lapid as I am with Daniel Silva's Gabriel Alon... I'm compulsively devouring one book after another." - Pamela B. Cohen, author of Hidden Heroes, One Woman's Story of Rescue and Resistance in the Soviet Union

"I 'binge-read' the entire series." - Cardinal Bluff Reviews

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Customer Reviews

Based on 5 reviews
Michael O'Donovan
Ten years Gone & The Auschwitz Detective

Enjoyed both boooks very much and I'm looking forward to you next book The Dead Sister. About to begin it soon.

the eight first books together

Can't put them down. Well written. I'm still in the reading bubble. One more plus The Payback Girl to go.

Elinor Brenner
The Unlucky Woman

It was enjoyable and kept me in the edge of my seat. Very strange topic but possibly did happen after the Holocaust. Well written and I love your descriptions of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. So vivid. Keep up the good work

Nir M.
An enjoyable read

I discovered the Adam Lapid series a few months ago and so far read the first 3 books. The early days of Israel and the characters make for an interesting read. Highly recommended!

Carolyn McGehee
My favorite

I really enjoy all of your books, but this one is the best! I, also, really think this narrator is perfect.