A woman’s naked body, her head shaved, is found in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood on a wintry day in a scrapyard along its ever-foul canal. New York Tribune newbie Rebekah Roberts, a young freelance reporter fresh from the University of Central Florida, is at the scene trying to keep her hands warm with burnt deli coffee. What starts off as routine tabloid fodder becomes a more compelling story when Rebekah begins to investigate the dead woman’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish family and community in South Brooklyn.
In part because of her own Jewish background (her estranged mother is Hasidic), Rebekah manages to speak with a few sources who knew the deceased, Rivka Mendelssohn. NYPD officer, Saul Katz, working as a liaison in Orthodox neighborhoods, also offers his assistance. They learn that Mendelssohn had been a loving mother and a role model for young women. She was also questioning some of the strict rules of her faith before she was beaten to death. And then Rebekah’s first big story becomes personal when Katz reveals that he knew her mother, who came from the same closed and close-knit community as Rivka’s.
Author Julia Dahl is herself a journalist with a background in crime reporting and the life of a smart, ambitious tabloid reporter is convincingly portrayed, from dealings with the news desk to rookie mistakes made in the field. In uncovering the truth of Rivka’s death, Rebekah begins to uncover a hidden half of her own family history and her complicated feelings about the mother she never really knew. As the title of Invisible City suggests, it’s also a fascinating chance to explore a community that outsiders often look at but don’t really see.