The Counselor, the Cleric, and the Crook by Hank Shrier and Laurence Becker

Title: The Counselor, the Cleric, and the Crook
Author/publisher: Hank Shrier and Laurence Becker/GBN Publishing
Date: 2011

The co-author, Hank Shrier, did his due process by submitting a review request and an e-copy of his book to Split Seed Review, but primarily I know Hank as moderator of two helpful LinkedIn groups for independent publishers. The Counselor, the Cleric, and the Crook is the elaborate story of the life and death of Rabbi Baruch Teller, his estranged family, the several opportunists attempting to swindle the rabbi (and his heirs) out of his substantial estate, and the good-intentioned lawyer trying to help the family manage the morass of deceit and dysfunction. Little did they know there were forces at work larger than all of them.

Admittedly, this book is long, told from an “objective observer” perspective that struck me much like a lawyer carefully recording every detail so as to leave no stone unturned. Don’t expect a fast-paced novel, but a plodding account of how one family in Israel served as a connecting point for revenge, murder, and intrigue that had their beginning decades earlier and in various continents. (That’s all I can say about the story without risking spoilage.) About halfway through, I had to really use my willpower to keep reading, precisely because the style was so thorough that I thought I knew exactly where this story was headed and became impatient with the author’s need to record every detail. But now that I’ve read to the end, rest assured that all these details are there for a reason. There’s no way I ever could have predicted that ending.

The story takes place in modern-day Israel – this was the closest I’ve ever made to a visit there, and the authors were hospitable hosts. Whenever I travel (as sadly infrequent as that is these days), I’m the kind of traveler who does my best to blend in, to visit the places the locals frequent, and avoid looking like a tourist at all costs. This might mean I miss the big, famous sites (and the traffic), but it yields a longer, deeper impression of the real character of the city or country – what it might be like to live here, what kind of people choose to live here, where I seem to fit, and where I might want to visit again next time. What was unexpectedly delightful about this book was that the authors gave me just this kind of tour of Israel and the Jewish life, a context largely unfamiliar to me. I got the clear impression that this book didn’t intend to be “about Israel,” in an exotic sense, but just happened to take place in Israel, a perhaps-subconscious approach that revealed quotidian, subtle, but deeper details that made me feel like a local right away. Easy references to lesser-known details of Jewish life (to non-Jews, at least), the Mediterranean landscape, and the different character of various districts in no way distracted from the storyline.

Design notes: I read the pdf version on a Kindle (horizontally orientation greatly improves readability, which I figured out how to do half the book and one aching head too late), and it appeared generally well edited and designed. Any minor issues didn’t distract from me from the story. Would have loved an e-book version, and I hear it’s in the works. Based on an online picture I saw, the cover is well done and styled as a thriller novel – yet I wonder if a subtler, photograph-based cover might not capture the intended audience better.

This story may be a fictionalized version of a true story, but it certainly caused me to wonder anew at the simultaneous human capacities of depravity, resilience, and family loyalty.

The Counselor, the Cleric, and the Crook is available at


Quality in, quality out

Last night I watched an Italian-directed movie version of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, with William Hurt as Mr. Rochester. Even as an undergraduate English major, I somehow managed never to read Jane Eyre. In fact, I never even took the core major courses on 19th century British literature – they were “strongly recommended” by my university, but not required. Unfortunately I was a particularly arrogant and intellectually rebellious college student, so I thumbed my nose at the recommendation and took contemporary literature instead – without any knowledge of the classics. (This nose-thumbing also ensured my rejection from the thesis program. Just as well, as I doubt I would have produced anything terribly helpful with that attitude.)

Here’s the point: This story, originally written over 150 years ago, absolutely transformed me. It gave me fresh and much-needed perspective in my 21st-century life, particularly in terms of enduring life’s difficulties and the beauty of imperfection. And this was the movie version. The story still lives – 150 years, one continent, and a technological revolution later.

I was sufficiently humbled. Who am I to think I can produce something of value to the literary marketplace if I’m not well acquainted with the stories that have lived for centuries? Just another reminder that as I work on my novel, I need to watch my content intake. Garbage in, garbage out. Transformative content in, transformative content out. These stories are out there. We just have to work a little harder to find them – and the hardest work, for me, is not finding good recommendations, but being humble enough to take them.