The Dev­il in Jerusalem

  • Review
By – October 7, 2015

The Dev­il in Jerusalem by Nao­mi Ragen is an intense thriller. It explores the hor­rif­ic abuse, both emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal, that can be inflict­ed on cult fol­low­ers. Based on a true, well-known Israeli court case, the sto­ry has been fic­tion­al­ized to add depth to the plot. Although the nov­el cen­ters around an ultra-Ortho­dox self-pro­claimed reli­gious leader and his acolytes, these char­ac­ters could eas­i­ly be replaced by oth­er reli­gious psy­chopaths (Jim Jones and David Kore­sh come to mind). 

From the very first page read­ers are drawn to the con­di­tions of two young chil­dren brought to Hadas­sah Hos­pi­tal with hor­rif­ic injuries; one has severe head trau­ma and the oth­er exten­sive burns. It is here that the author intro­duces the main char­ac­ter, Daniel­la Good­man, the children’s moth­er. She refus­es to speak to the author­i­ties brought in to inves­ti­gate this obvi­ous child abuse, and instead just prays from the Book of Psalms. 

In order to con­vey how any moth­er can let some­thing so ter­ri­ble hap­pen to her chil­dren, Ragen does a good job of delv­ing into Daniella’s back­sto­ry. Dur­ing her col­lege years she is an ide­al­is­tic, intel­li­gent per­son who decides to drop out of school, mar­ry for love, become the best moth­er she can be, and even­tu­al­ly immi­grate to Israel with the hope of find­ing spir­i­tu­al ful­fill­ment. Instead, the fam­i­ly strug­gles finan­cial­ly and is over­whelmed after hav­ing sev­en chil­dren in a very short peri­od of time. Aban­doned by her hus­band emo­tion­al­ly, she falls prey to this psy­cho­path­ic cult leader, becom­ing a vic­tim of his mind games. She los­es all con­trol as he takes away her abil­i­ty to think and resist. 

Ragen bril­liant­ly leads the read­er through a num­ber of trans­for­ma­tions regard­ing their feel­ings toward Daniel­la. One goes from dis­lik­ing her in the begin­ning of the book, to root­ing for her dur­ing the back­sto­ry, to won­der­ing how she could allow her chil­dren to be tor­tured and her­self manip­u­lat­ed. Yet, by the end of the book it is hard not to feel sym­pa­thy for her, under­stand­ing that she became help­less and brain­washed. The reader’s emo­tions run par­al­lel to those of the pro­tag­o­nist, Detec­tive Bina Tzedek, also an Ortho­dox mother. 

A word of warn­ing: the abuse scenes are described in graph­ic detail. If the author set out to jolt and hor­ri­fy the read­er, she has achieved her goal through mak­ing peo­ple aware of the mis­treat­ment by those who hijack a reli­gion. The Dev­il in Jerusalem is a ter­ri­fy­ing thriller, but even more upset­ting is the fact that this sto­ry was based on a true event. Read­ers will be kept riv­et­ed to this grip­ping narrative.

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

Discussion Questions