The Tenth Witness

By – November 6, 2013

In his award-win­ning first nov­el, All Cry Chaos, Leonard Rosen intro­duced Hen­ri Poin­caré, a mar­ried, mid­dle-aged Inter­pol offi­cer with grown chil­dren. The Tenth Wit­ness is a pre­quel. Hen­ri is a young, suc­cess­ful engi­neer. On a rare free day, he goes on a guid­ed walk across the mud flats of the Wad­den Sea, north of the Nether­lands. That adven­ture will change his life in ways he could nev­er imagine.

The mud flats tour guide is Liesel Kraus, an enchant­i­ng Ger­man woman who draws Hen­ri into her fam­i­ly of wealthy steel mag­nates. Kraus Steel no longer pro­duces the met­al alloy, but engages in sal­vage oper­a­tions such as the strip­ping of met­al from beached oil tankers, doing busi­ness in third world coun­tries, uti­liz­ing cheap labor, and treat­ing their work­ers as lit­tle more than slaves. Hen­ri becomes aware of the ques­tion­able nature of these ven­tures ear­ly on, but as his feel­ings for Liesel grow and the oppor­tu­ni­ties to line his own pock­ets increase, he man­ages to put his con­cerns aside. He even accepts a job over­see­ing a Kraus research project.

It is on his first day as a con­sul­tant to Kraus Steel that Hen­ri reads a biog­ra­phy of the now deceased fam­i­ly patri­arch, Otto Kraus. It includes an affi­davit signed by ten wit­ness­es, who con­firm that Otto, who had been a mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty, was not a war crim­i­nal, but actu­al­ly a good and hon­or­able man, caught up in evil times.” Hen­ri is shocked when he reads the name of the last wit­ness, Jacob Zelig­man, a Holo­caust sur­vivor who had attend­ed the recent funer­al of Isaac Kahane, a fam­i­ly friend who had been like a grand­fa­ther to Hen­ri. He finds him­self com­pelled to look into the wartime his­to­ry of the Kraus steel fac­to­ry and the verac­i­ty of the afore­men­tioned affidavit.

Henri’s activ­i­ties now bring him to the atten­tion of Inter­pol offi­cer Serge Lau­rent, who is inves­ti­gat­ing Kraus Steel and views Hen­ri as a poten­tial infor­mant. Torn between Liesel, the Inter­pol case against her fam­i­ly, and their con­nec­tion to the wartime hor­rors expe­ri­enced by his beloved Isaac Kahane, Hen­ri ends up plac­ing both his life and per­haps his very soul in great danger.

Leonard Rosen is a gift­ed writer and The Tenth Wit­ness is just as deserv­ing of awards as was All Cry Chaos. I would rec­om­mend that you read them both.

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Leonard Rosen

  • Of what, if any­thing, is Liesel Kraus guilty? She did­n’t choose her par­ents, after all.

  • What com­pels Hen­ri Poin­caré to inves­ti­gate the Kraus fam­i­ly? Why can’t he leave well-enough alone?

  • When Poin­caré recoils at the touch of the gyp­sy, he sees some­thing in him­self that he abhors. What does he see — and does he see it any­where, or in any­one, else?

  • Poin­caré gives up a promis­ing career as a mechan­i­cal engi­neer. Why? Why does he accept Serge Lau­ren­t’s invi­ta­tion to quit what he knows and become an Inter­pol agent?

  • What does Poin­caré learn from Isaac Kahane?

  • Anselm Kraus grew up dur­ing the years his father was direc­tor at the Drütte con­cen­tra­tion camp. What did Anselm learn there, and how does he put that knowl­edge to use in his cur­rent business?

  • The epi­graph of the book comes from Elie Wiesel’s Open Heart: I still believe in man in spite of man.” What might this mean in rela­tion to The Tenth Witness?

  • Len Rosen grew up in Bal­ti­more in 1960s. In this blog post that he wrote, The Bur­den of Silence”, he dis­cuss­es sel­dom hear­ing of the Holo­caust as a child. This, he says, cre­at­ed a pow­er­ful moti­va­tion to write. What expe­ri­ences did you have as a child on learn­ing about the war and relat­ed events in Europe? How has this affect­ed you subsequently?

  • Did you want the rela­tion­ship between Poin­caré and Liesel to work out? Why did­n’t it — why could­n’t it — succeed?

  • One crit­ic wrote of Poin­caré, in Rosen’s debut All Cry Chaos: It’s a rare plea­sure to find a pro­tag­o­nist who reads like a lit­er­ary fig­ure in a thriller.” To what extent do you find Rosen con­tin­u­ing to blend gen­res in The Tenth Wit­ness? That is, to what extent do you find his writ­ing to share qual­i­ties of both lit­er­ary fic­tion and mysteries/​thrillers?