2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
An absorbing if flawed book
, 13 July 2012
This review is from: The Butcher's Theatre (Paperback)
I am a great fan of Jonathan Kellerman and have read all his books, including this one, a number of times. What do I like about The Butcher's Theatre? Well, the descriptions of Jerusalem for one; Kellerman really captures the sights, sounds and smells of the city. And I love the main character, Daniel Sharavi (who also appears in one of Kellerman's later books, `Survival of the Fittest'), and his family - the descriptions of Sharavi's wife Laura, his children and his father, Yehesqel, give their characters and their home life real substance and charm. I also liked Sharavi's friends, Gene and Luanne Brooker - the former a detective in LA (the character also appears in `Survival of the Fittest') who helps Sharavi track down the Grinning Man, who is butchering (literally) Arab women in an attempt to start a race war (much like Charles Manson and `Helter Skelter'; this theme also recurs in another of Kellerman's books, `Time Bomb'). We are given some insight into what drives the Grinning Man through his personal history, narrated from his point of view as a counterpoint to the police investigation in Israel.
So why only four stars? Well, I hate to say this, because I do admire Kellerman's writing in general, but what disturbed me about this book was the horribly racist attitude towards the Arabs. One would expect ambiguity because of Kellerman's background (he is Jewish, and his wife, Faye Kellerman - whose books I also love - writes about an orthodox Jewish detective in LA; I am entranced by her descriptions of Jewish home life at its best, as well as - occasionally - at its worst). But the extent of his prejudice is shocking in someone whose writing generally displays great compassion and tolerance. The Arabs in this book are reduced to stereotypes (lazy, deceitful, whining, contemptuous of women) - apart from the Arab detective, Daoud (who is a Christian - couldn't have a sympathetic Muslim character, could we?) the Arabs in this book display no redeeming characteristics. Kellerman trashes T.E. Lawrence's romanticised view of the Bedouin, yet Kellerman himself displays no real knowledge or understanding of them (as an antidote, one might try reading the work of westerners who have actually lived among the Bedouin, such as H.R.P. Dickson, or Wilfrid Thesiger, or Gertrude Bell, who entrusted her life to them many times in dangerous situations). I have Jewish friends, and I have Arab friends, and I love both cultures, so Kellerman's depiction of the Arabs is really painful for me. For a psychologist (Kellerman's profession before he turned to writing) Kellerman seems to have no insight into his own prejudices. Maybe he really believes Arabs are like that; heaven knows, Arabs have been portrayed negatively in American (and to a lesser extent British) culture for many decades. But Kellerman seems oblivious to the lesson the Nazis (and centuries of anti-Semitism and any other kind of racism before them) have taught us: demonise people, portray them as contemptible, and this provides one with an excuse for treating them badly. One of the characters in the book, the Israeli detective Schmeltzer, despises the Arabs for their ingratitude for all the Israelis have done for them. Say what? For real insight into how the Arab community is affected by local politics read the Omar Yussef mysteries by Matt Rees. You certainly won't find such insight in `The Butcher's Theatre'.
True, the portrayal of the Jewish community is not all positive: the Hasidim (ultra-orthodox) in their more extreme forms also get a fair bit of kicking. But I feel the whole premise on which the book is based (the provocation of a race-war by a rabid anti-Semite) is weakened by the anti-Arab sentiments: we should care that both sides would suffer, not just one.
In spite of this, I still like this book. If you disregard the stereotypes as just that, this is a cracking good story. So in spite of my misgivings, I'd still recommend it to anyone who likes a good gory thriller.
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