The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison
WildBlue Press (June 2018)
358 pages; $12.99 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
There are true crime stories and then there are books that delve so much deeper that they embed themselves under the skin and burrow into the psyche. The Crate is the latter — and beyond.
Deborah Vadas Levison might be new to the book world but she’s been writing for years as a journalist, which shows in prose that’s cut clean and yet is conversational in tone, despite the terrors between the covers.
Two survivors from the Holocaust. A vicious murder. A family navigating the ordeals in brutal detail yet with heart. A couple buys a house on a lake in Canada, a beautiful, serene getaway from the craziness of the big city. After they survive the Holocaust, start successful happy lives away from the nightmare that decimated both families, they set out to build their own legacy. Debbie and her brother enjoy their years at the house, despite dealing with the anti-Semitic acts of schoolmates. Once grown, they bring their own children to the escape, allowing them to enjoy it without most of the pain that the former generations have endured.
Yet nothing remains simple on this twisted ball of dirt. Debbie receives a call from her brother that a body has been found underneath the house, hidden in a wooden crate. Immediately, their sanctuary is shattered. Police and media descend on the lake town and family, thrusting everything and everyone into chaos, and suspicion.
What ensues tests the resolve and mettle of the Vadas clan as the investigation whirls and dives deep into the lives of those too close to them. Levison transports the reader back to Nazi-era Hungary where her parents relive the darkest parts of their lives. In doing so, she fortifies their characters and gives heft to a true crime story that could have been another run of the mill documentary. The emotions she brings to the table scaffold the stories, both past and present, bringing the fear to new levels, in both timelines, as the family struggles to cope with the new reality the crate has thrust upon them.
The payoff here isn’t who killed the victim and left the crate — it’s the entire package that is constructed slowly but with precision that will leave most readers changed. Highly recommended true crime that is so much more.