Independent Publisher, November 16, 2022
Paperback and eBook, 978-8-36394-761-2
SD Levin’s new novel, Angels in Dallas, is a well-written thriller that gives a crisp salute to noir fiction’s worn-down private detectives—especially the ones who stumble into a case and discover they have not completely given up on life, love, and the pursuit of justice.
The investigator in Levin’s book is Sam Silver, a jaded, long-time reporter for the fictional Dallas Morning Post. He writes what he hopes will be a quick “one and done” obituary about a reclusive Dallas rabbi, Menachem Zalman, who has been found dead in his apartment. The cause of Zalman’s death was not yet known. And the rabbi, Silver reports, was little noticed in Dallas, yet known elsewhere “for his vast knowledge and collection of Talmudic texts, Jewish mystical tracts and Hebraic linguistic works.”
The day after the obituary appears, Bella Marks, a beautiful woman about forty years old who says she is a linguistics student, shows up at the newspaper and tells Silver he got some details wrong. How does she know? She confesses she has made some calls while pretending to be a reporter for the Morning Post.
Flustered by his quick attraction to her and angered by her deception, Silver fails to ask her some important questions before sending her away. Meanwhile, thinking he still has a chance to publish corrections to the obit, he starts searching for more information. When he decides to go to Rabbi Zalman’s apartment, he finds that it is still locked and marked with police tape. But the woman who lives across the hall quietly hands him a key. “For emergencies only,” is all she says. Silver takes the key and does not hesitate.
I limbo through the tape and into Zalman’s apartment.
The door barely opens. With my lighter I find a small desk lamp that tells me I’m in bibliophile hell.
What a mess.
Books are everywhere—tossed from shelves, tables, chairs. Not a single one upright. Someone’s been looking for something.
Once Silver learns that the rabbi was murdered, the plot of Angels in Dallas crystallizes into a fast-moving quest—in Dallas, New York, and elsewhere—to recover an ancient Jewish text, the Sefer Raziel (“Book of Raziel”). That book is attributed to God’s angel of mysteries, the archangel Raziel, who gave it to Adam when he and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Raziel is said to have created the book to help humans understand the secrets of the universe.
The Hebrew text of Sefer Raziel first appeared in the twelfth century. The first printed copy appeared in 1701. In the novel, however, Rabbi Zalman apparently has been protecting something much more irreplaceable. Could it possibly be the actual book handed down by Raziel in Year 0 of the Jewish calendar and passed forward from guardian to guardian, through wars, plagues, and disasters, for nearly six thousand years? If so, it would be filled with enormous powers, and its value would be inestimable. Silver begins to sense that certain people he has met recently, including people who would have never been on his suspicion radar, may have seized it.
SD Levin keeps his effective, noir-like dialogue, descriptions, and characters all moving smoothly while the urgent search gains momentum and his story zigzags to a surprising finish.
A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., Levin previously worked as reporter and editor for several newspapers and has also taught college journalism. He was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 while working at the Dallas Morning News. In 2018 he shared a Pulitzer Prize with other colleagues at the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., for news coverage of that area’s devastating wildfires. His other writings include five history books and the young adult Danny Bastrop mystery series.