Levine, Allan

(Great Plains, 1997)

Reviewed by Sue Feder

For the better part of a millennium, some Christians have accused Jews of murdering Christian children in order to make use of their blood for various rituals. Though many lies have been perpetrated about Jews throughout their 4,000 year history, this is the abomination known as the blood libel. When raised, it never failed to do exactly what it was meant to do: inflame the passions of an at best already mistrustful populace to the point that mob mentality took over and destroyed everything in its path that was Jewish.

When a young Polish girl is murdered in 1911 Winnipeg, evidence planted at the scene suggests that the killer was a local rabbi. Egged on by a newspaper article reporting the blood libel, the community reacts predictably. With the mayor, cops and media at least half-believing in the possibility, the only person who can uncover the real murderer comes from within the Jewish community.

Sam Klein, as a Jew, has trouble moving around the predominantly Gentile population. Since he is a general factotum of the city's most infamous whore house, his fellow Jews don't think all that highly of him either. So Klein has to make some timely, highly unlikely alliances to get the job done.

The problems only start there, but it's illustrative of the bigger picture. Levine clearly has a good heart and even better intentions. He is passionate about his subject and has done the requisite research. But a story of this sort demands that the characters and their relationships be created first, the story growing out of them; Levine instead allows the needs of the story to dictate the movement of his characters, rendering them stock, cardboard, sometimes silly, usually unbelievable. Too, there are many scenes in which one character gives an extended explanation of something to another, violating the cardinal rule of "show, don't tell." And in perhaps his worst error, he fails to ponder the ultimate irony of the crime's solution, instead tacking on a happily-ever-after ending that is almost distasteful in light of what led to it.

Levine had the makings of a fine study of the need for tradition and roots versus the desire for acceptance and assimilation. The history of the Jews is inherently replete with dramatic tension. The irony of the suspicion and bigotry amongst various groups of immigrants who are themselves all lumped together and held in disdain by the longer-term (read: British) residents is undeniable. It is unfortunate that Levine was not up to handling his material.