On Lincoln’s birthday, 1966, a young man stood on the bimah of a multi-million dollar synagogue in suburban Detroit and, confronting his audience of 700 with the Colt .32 revolver he would soon use to commit murder and suicide, he announced:
“This congregation is a travesty and an abomination. It has made a mockery by its phoniness and hypocrisy of the beauty and spirit of Judaism. It is composed of people who on the whole make me ashamed to say that I’m a Jew. For the most part it is composed of men, women and children who care for nothing except their vain, egotistical selves. With this act I protest a humanly horrifying and hence unacceptable situation.”
This true crime book is a precise and harrowing account of the assassination of Rabbi Morris Adler by 23-year-old Richard Wishnetsky, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at the University of Michigan and a Woodrow Wilson Fellow bound for the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. A troubled intellectual seeker, Wishnetsky knew Rabbi Adler one of the nation’s most prominent and venerated religious leaders, yet he settled on this learned and charismatic man as the appropriate target of his deepest rage.
“Murder in the Synagogue” by T.V. LoCicero is a meticulously researched work of non fiction about an act of terror/ violence in a synagogue in 1966, on the day of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in June.
LoCicero tells with descriptive accuracy and astonishing objectivity the life of the perpetrator Richard Wishnetsky, a 23 year old Jewish man, by using eye witness accounts and explaining the socio-cultural, religious, ethnic and personal background of Wishnetsky and his generation.
It was this section that I personally enjoyed the most, myself, like LoCicero, a gentile writer about Jewish themes. I was impressed with the knowledge and deep understanding of the complexities and multitudes of Jewish life, particularly at that time and going back to Wishnetsky’s family roots.
We witness a seemingly happy and content, socially acceptable man gradually slip into a less conformist eccentric man with a thirst for meaning. We also get to hear about his psychological state from a medical perspective and are offered some names and conditions, such as despression and schizophrenia that might characterise Wishnetsky.
LoCicero also shows the life and work of the Rabbi, present in the Synagogue on that fateful day, the man that ultimately gets shot by Wishnetsky before the latter kills himself.
Only in the epilogue does LoCicero give his own personal interpretation of the mad action in the Synagogue. Despite the earlier objectivity I felt as if I had a true understanding of the man and his troubles, as far as that is possible to achieve with a murderer. The conflicts and the general background of Wishnetsky are not offered as an excuse but they paint a great picture.
Having read this book in the week where a mindless act of terror is dominating the media has probably added to the impact the book had on me.
Interview with TV LoCicero:
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you come to writing in the first place, before it became a career?
First, thanks so much, Christoph, for your interest. You are such a talented writer and wonderful person, and I’m pleased that you asked me to spend a little time on your blog.
At 15 I began writing weekly for 3 local newspapers about the exploits of my high school’s sports teams (One of our star players would end up in the NBA Hall of Fame). At the University of Michigan I took writing courses so I could spend as much of my time as possible writing, and in my grad school year I won a prominent college writing award for 7 short stories.
How did you come to choose the “Murder at the Synagogue” as subject for your book? What were you working on before or was it your first book?
It might be more accurate to say Murder chose me. Two years out of grad school I was working on a novel and teaching at a college located about a half mile from the synagogue where Rabbi Adler was assassinated. This was the middle of our troubled ‘60s, with wars in Vietnam and between the generations, the assassinations of the Kennedys and King, horrific mass murders, etc, and when a newspaper published writing from the rabbi’s young assassin, I felt this terrible story might offer some insight into the chaos we were living through. I had been writing only fiction, but I abandoned the novel I was working on and wrote an article that was published in the Jewish intellectual magazine Commentary. Then I heard from a number of agents and publishers and soon signed a contract with Prentice-Hall.
What was the most fascinating aspect of your research?
Three of my grandparents were born in Sicily, and I was raised a Catholic. But many of my friends from college (including my first girlfriend) were Jewish and so were most of my favorite writers. So I was already fascinated with Jewish culture, religion and history. In college I had nearly headed for psychiatry, and violence in American society was a subject of deep concern to me. So I found every aspect of this story powerfully compelling.
Was writing it a chore or were you drawn into the subject well enough so that it became a pleasure or a fascination?
I can’t imagine any book being anything less than a chore, a pleasure and a fascination. But here’s part of what I wrote about the process in Squelched: “L. of course faced the traditional challenge of a biographer: the achievement of objective balance when an element of subjectivity is found at every turn—in the opinions, impressions and judgements of a witness, even in the apparently straight-forward rendition of simple facts, or the description of a concrete experience. The inevitably subjective nature of all perception and memory includes, of course, that of the researcher himself, who in recording the data, is forced to assess the character of a witness and the quality of his or her perception, to divine somehow the emotional relationship that existed between witness and subject, to reconcile or make sense of frequently contradictory reports, to search out and dismiss distortion while holding on to what seems to be truth, to assume finally some method of selection whereby a great mass of details becomes a reasonably coherent structure. L. was new to all of this and found in it a surprising fascination.”
What have you been doing since then professionally?
Here’s my usual spiel on what I call my “checkered past”:
At one time or another I’ve found work as an industrial spy; a producer of concert videos for Rolling Stone’s greatest singer of all time; one of the few male contributors to Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine; a writer of an appellate brief for those convicted in one of Detroit’s most sensational drug trials; the author of a true crime book that garnered a bigger advance than a top ten best-selling American novel; a project coordinator/fundraiser for a humanities council; a small business owner; the writer/producer/director of numerous long-form documentaries; a golf course clerk; a college instructor who taught courses in advanced composition, music and poetry appreciation, introduction to philosophy, remedial English, and American Literature–all in the same term; a ghost writer; a maker of corporate/industrial videos; a member of a highway surveying crew; a speechwriter for auto executives; a TV producer of live event specials; an editorial writer; the creator of 15-second corporate promos for the PBS series Nature; and a novelist.
There is a sense in which that last occupation was the reason for all the others. Almost anyone who’s ever tried to make ends meet as a novelist knows what I’m talking about.
In “Squelched” you write in detail about the suppression of your story. Has writing this been at all cathartic for you?
Yes and no and yes. First yes: because clearly I needed to have my say. Then no because it’s original fate (complete rejection and the manuscript lost to me for 30 years) only added to my frustration. And finally yes, again, now that the new world of self-publishing has happened to all of us.
Has your experience with the publishing world made you turn your back on traditional publishing completely or would you trust them again with a new book?
I’ve managed to live long enough to appreciate the line, “Never say never.” But given the history related in Squelched, my assumption has long been that no traditional publisher would ever look seriously at any of my books.
Tell us about your fiction books and how they came about.
The Obsession began as a very brief anecdote from a close friend about a European woman who came to teach at a U.S. university and was harassed so badly that she had to return home. The rest I made up. Then the story just kept unreeling through The Disappearance and now I’m starting on Book 3, The Tryst.
The new series of crime novels set in Detroit (The Car Bomb and Admission of Guilt) are full of stories I was steeped in two decades ago, back when I was making documentaries about crime in the city.
Are you deliberately choosing odd or psychopathic subjects for your books?
It looks like it, doesn’t it? But I’m certainly not the first writer drawn to extremes in personality and behaviour to fashion compelling stories in an effort to understand the strange and troubling times in which we live.
How do you write? What is the environment like?
I write in longhand on legal pads sitting in an armchair or on my laptop at a desk, or on my desktop computer—whatever feels good and seems productive. I’m very self-indulgent about my writing, and that’s part of the reason I like my own company enough to do it 10-12 hours a day. I try to write a fast first draft of chapter or section, and then I fuss and re-write and fuss and re-fuss and re-write and…you get the idea. I work in a small, well-lit office overlooking the beautiful back end of a condo complex.
How long does it take you to write your books?
Whatever it takes…several months, years, decades.
Who does the editing for it and control the quality?
I do, with a little help from a friend or two.
How did you come up with the cover design?
I’m a documentary maker and a self-styled photographer, so I more or less trust my eye. Usually a cover is a photograph that captures a crucial moment/place in the story.
Who would play your characters in a movie?
Professor Lina Lentini should have been played by a young Streep with red hair, but Lina didn’t exist back then.
Who are your favourite authors? What is your favourite book?
Crime: the incomparable Elmore Leonard. Contemporary Literary: Roth, McEwan, Amis. Too many favorite books to mention one.
What are your plans for the future? What are your latest projects and where would we find out about them?
Next I need to write the third novel in each of my series, The Tryst for The Truth Beauty Trilogy and Cinema Verite for The detroit im dyin Trilogy. Then there are finishing touches for a literary novel, Sicilian Quilt, and of all things what might pass for a romantic comedy, The Simple Life.
T.V. LoCicero has presence on
and on his website
The Car Bomb is now available on Amazon in ebook or paper. Admission of Guilt in one month time.
My review of the Obsession:
“The Obsession” by T.V. LoCicero is a dark and moody blend of genres; part psychological thriller, part romance and part murder mystery this is an engaging and captivating read.
The story is that of the obsession teacher Stan has with an Italian woman, Lina, who comes to teach at his University for a term. Although not entirely disinterested in Stan, Lina however favours married man John and begins an affair with him. Stan turns from jealousy to obsessed to what I would call a psychpoath, committing ever more outrageous acts of intrusion and stalking behaviour.
Unsuspecting Lina gradually comes to realise what a mad man she has at her hands. The tensions gradually grows, reminiscent in its best parts of Ian McEwan’s Saturday – a book that coincidentally is mentioned n the novel itself. LoCicero includes a lot of literary discussions between the characters as he describes their campus life.
Written with an omniscient narrative LoCicero describes the thoughts and actions of the characters in turn, giving us an opportunity to discover their exact thoughts as well as know what they don’t, for example hinting at a mistake a murderer has just made.
This tale with its subtle turns and twists stayed with me for some time after I read it. Maybe not comfortable reading for everyone, I for one recommend it happily to everyone who likes a bit of dark.
Fans of Hitchcock can probably see it in their mind’s eyes.