Book Review

The Auschwitz Detective

The Auschwitz Detective

  • Author: Jonathan Dunsky
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Publication Date: September 9, 2020
  • Publisher: Independently Published
  • Series: Adam Lapid Mysteries #6

Thank you to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: grief, genocide, graphic Holocaust imagery, violence, blood, murder, suicide, antisemitism, homophobia, mention of rape, mention of molestation

The boy was murdered in Auschwitz. The killer isn’t a Nazi.

Poland, 1944: Adam Lapid used to be a police detective. Now he’s a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz.

Reduced to a slave after losing his family in the gas chambers, Adam struggles to find a reason to carry on living.

But when a boy is found murdered inside the camp, Adam is given the chance to be a detective again.

Ordered to discover the identity of the killer, Adam must employ all his wits to solve the mystery while surviving the perils of Auschwitz.

And he’d better catch the killer soon because the punishment for failure is death.

The Auschwitz Detective is a gripping historical mystery that will thrill readers of murder mysteries and historical fiction.

Holocaust stories are exceptionally difficult for me to read. I almost exclusively stick to non-fiction in this area, and it’s often a struggle for me even to read those, especially since my father, a Holocaust survivor, has passed away. However, I make the effort to push through in his honor, because it is an important area to remember and bear witness to. I knew this book was going to be difficult, but after reading 5 books portraying Adam’s post-war struggles, I had a strong level of trust in the author and believed he would do his absolute best to write this book as accurately and sensitively as possible. 

This was by no means an easy or enjoyable book, but I chose to give it five stars not only because I got caught up in the mystery, but also because of his incredible portrayal of the setting. He had an amazing ability to capture the absolute horror of Auschwitz in a way that I have never been able to see anywhere else. Reading this book allowed me to not only visualize the camp, but also envision the smells, sounds, and even tastes that surrounded the people imprisoned there. 

While trapped in Auschwitz, people found different reasons to survive. Removed from their home, witness to their families and entire communities being killed and burned, forced to work while starving to death, and beaten and subjected to cruel and brutal punishments for no reason other than forcing them to suffer, they struggled to find a reason to live. In Adam’s case, he wanted vengeance, but his relationship with Vilmos, his only friend in the camp, offered him the only speck of hope in his dismal existence. It was beautiful to see how the relied upon each other so heavily in different ways—Vilmos provided hope and encouragement, while Adam provided protection.

Threats didn’t just come from the Nazis. Inter-prisoner politics came into play. It’s not a jump to see how quickly moral fiber breaks down in the fight for survival, and one meal can mean the difference between seeing another day or not. Values are rapidly set to the side in favor of life, and we get to see Adam’s struggle to reconcile his own change:

“‘This place, this dreadful place. It makes it so hard to remain a human being, doesn’t it?’ I nodded, unsure of where I currently stood on the spectrum of human morals and values. Since my arrival at the camp, I had slipped a ways toward the corrupt end and felt myself straining to keep from slipping further.”

Adam has an additional secret that he’s hiding from the others—he was a detective, and in a camp where criminals have the power over Jews, that’s a fact that could get him killed. When prisoners are starving to death, someone finding out that secret and whispering it into the right ear could mean the difference between life and death. However, just being put in the camp was the end product of a process of dehumanization as a result of the Nazi killing machine, a systematic process of genocide. Adam realizes that he has been reduced to a single thing: a number, like all the other prisoners in Auschwitz.

“That number was me, and I was that number. Sometimes it felt that this was all I ever was. That everything I had once been—father, son, husband, policeman—had been expunged, erased, eradicated so thoroughly that even the memory of those things was suspect, as though my life prior to arriving in the camp had been an illusion or a fevered dream.”

When Adam is tasked to investigate a suspicious death, a murder that occurred that wasn’t the result of Nazi actions, he’s surprised. There aren’t many clues to go on, and he doesn’t have the same freedom as he used to as a detective. But he is given powerful motivation to solve the crime, and gives it everything he has. I quickly got sucked into his investigation, and couldn’t wait to find out who was behind the crime. 

As he tracks down clues and questions people who may have information without necessarily even realizing it, he discovers that there are even more horrors in the camp, facing the people he’s imprisoned with. He encounters the dark secrets being held by people close to him and the investigation, including someone who is gay and hiding it because of his fear of even more punishment, as well as his own internalized homophobia as a result of the society he’s been entrenched in. The investigation also leads him down a dark rabbit hole of abuse and coercion, as he gets closer to the crux of the crime, which he is forced to solve to save his own life.

The dark nature of this book and how difficult it was to read forced me to have to take breaks and read another book simultaneously. But even as I was reading the other book, this one took up space in my head, and I found myself going back to it and reading compulsively. Adam manages to maintain an analytical distance from his own situation, maybe because it’s how his mind works, but maybe also as a coping strategy to protect himself from the inhuman situation that he is forced into. I got attached to him and the case, and even to his friend, especially the way they managed to maintain their humanity in a place that was designed to strip all humanity away from them. I found myself crying by the end, but also loved Adam even more for knowing more about his story. This is a powerful story, and Dunsky did an incredible job with treading the fine line of Holocaust fiction. It’s done sensitively and felt as though Dunsky maintained accuracy to the best of his ability, although I’ll definitely be glad to be getting back to Adam’s new home ground of Israel in the next book. 

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 7

To purchase this book on Amazon, click the link below. As an Amazon affiliate, I may collect a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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