The Hye­na Murders

  • Review
By – December 26, 2022

Mur­der. Pol­i­tics. Race.

Ellen Frankel has once again cooked up a spicy stew that brings all three to a boil, as only she can do. The Hye­na Mur­ders, book two of The Jerusalem Mys­ter­ies, takes us on anoth­er ter­ri­fy­ing, intense, and huge­ly sat­is­fy­ing chase through mod­ern-day Jerusalem with­in a vicious web that was cre­at­ed once-upon-a-time in Ethiopia.

The key char­ac­ters, as in book one’s The Dead­ly Scrolls, are Israeli intel­li­gence agent Maya Rimon and her rival, Sar­it Levine, chief inspec­tor for the Jerusalem police. Both have the­o­ries about the mur­der: Levine thinks it is a gang hit relat­ed to a failed drug deal, while Rimon sens­es a deep­er evil and har­bors sus­pi­cions that are far more sinister.

The tar­get of the ser­i­al killer is the promi­nent Ethiopi­an fam­i­ly of Moshe Aklilu, a mem­ber of the Israeli Knes­set. Because Rimon feels Levine’s inves­ti­ga­tion is taint­ed at the out­set by her bias against Black Jews, she calls on the ser­vices of an Ethiopi­an activist lawyer, Dani Solomon, to try to track down the killer. The pair makes a suc­cess­ful team, each bring­ing out strength and courage in the oth­er as they dig deep­er into the sus­pect­ed mur­der plot.

At the heart of the sto­ry is a buried note­book dis­cov­ered at a UN camp in Sudan. The infa­mous Um Raqu­ba, often referred to as Gehame­mi—hell — is a refugee camp orig­i­nal­ly cre­at­ed to offer Ethiopi­an Jews a safe place in which to shel­ter from war and per­se­cu­tion. Only a few hun­dred Jews remained there fol­low­ing air­lifts in the eight­ies and nineties that brought them to Israel. The note­book con­tains a diary writ­ten in Amhar­ic, an old orig­i­nal lan­guage spo­ken by Ethiopi­ans in the towns and vil­lages of their home country.

This dis­cov­ery proves key to solv­ing the crime, and, in doing so, uncov­ers the many forms of racism at its core. Frankel deft­ly explores racial hatred among politi­cians and with­in var­i­ous tribes of Israeli Jews, expos­ing their dead­ly effect and the insid­i­ous way they seep into fam­i­ly pol­i­tics and con­tort indi­vid­ual actions and ideas.

The Hye­na Mur­ders is an out­stand­ing exam­ple of fact-based fic­tion. Frankel makes sure we know what is real and what is imag­ined by offer­ing a well-craft­ed post­script. Through this com­pelling sto­ry, we enter into areas of Israeli soci­ety where few are accus­tomed to trav­el, and we emerge with a new vocab­u­lary for par­ti­san pol­i­tics and a nov­el under­stand­ing of the con­se­quences of racial discrimination.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

Discussion Questions