As one of the prominent areas of genre fiction, the thriller simultaneously engages, educates and scares its readers. Those who write within the genre need to be capable of skilled craftsmanship and, as Lindsay Parnell argues, few contemporary writers have captured the suspense and dark atmosphere of the true thriller like the Jewish American author Richard Zimler.
Richard Zimler completed his Bachelor’s Degree in comparative religion at Duke University before receiving his Masters in journalism from Stanford. Subsequently, Zimler taught journalism at a collegiate level for nearly twenty years in both the US and Portugal – where he has been a citizen since 2002. Known for his narrative fusions of Jewish spirituality and historical noir thrillers, Zimler’s body of work consists of eight critically acclaimed novels that have received international recognition from Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Portugal among others. Zimler’s literary preoccupation with the heroic search for spirituality during devastating religious and political conflicts has proven to transcend linguistic and geographic boundaries. His collection of novels are intriguing tales of personal and public history in the midst of violent turmoil. This is especially true of his three most notable texts: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, The Warsaw Anagrams and Guardian of the Dawn.
Centered on a ‘medieval manuscript’ retelling the murder of the eminent kabbalist Abraham living in Lisbon, Zimler’s debut novel, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, published in 2000, is an exploration of Jewish spirituality throughout time. Written with an underlying mysticism, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon is a fascinating investigation of Judaism’s spiritual traditions set during the massacre of the Jewish people living in 16th century Portugal. In 2008’s Guardian of the Dawn, Zimler jumps ahead in time to a colonised India. Tiago Zarco and his family are forced to flee to Portugal to escape religious persecution and conversion. Amidst the age of the Inquisition and religious turmoil, Tiago’s family is constantly threatened with being decimated, as is his relationship with his love, a Hindu girl. After his father is unlawfully imprisoned, Tiago begins a ruthless and merciless pursuit of the coward who betrayed his father. Driven to avenge his father’s name and bring justice to his family, Tiago’s story takes a dark turn into sinister vengeance.
Zimler solidifies his reputation as a master of historically infused thrillers with his most recent novel, The Warsaw Anagrams. Set to the backdrop of 1940s Nazi occupied Poland, The Warsaw Anagrams tells the story of psychiatrist Erik Cohen who is forced into confinement in the Warsaw Ghetto with many other Jewish citizens. After the body of Cohen’s great-nephew is found dead and disfigured – followed by the discovery of a young girl’s corpse – Cohen becomes caught up in the search for the truth, looking for a conspirator among the people confined to the ghetto.
A true modern master of drama to well-deserved international acclaim, Zimler’s historical adventures are punchy and darkly distinctive texts of pitch perfect suspense. Although their momentum is unstoppable and the impending terror is tangible, it is through the search for spiritual meaning and religious history that the author ultimately paints a superb and bleak portrait of humanity.
By Lindsay Parnell
Images Courtesy: Richard Zimler/Hernani Pereira and Alexandre Quintanilha