Richard Zimler: Mastering the Art of Historical Noir

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

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

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