When an Israeli tech entrepreneur disappears from Charles de Gaulle airport with a woman in red, logic dictates youthful indiscretion. But Israel is on a state of high alert nonetheless. Colonel Zeev Abadi, the new head of Unit 8200’s autonomous Special Section, who just happens to be in Paris, also just happens to have arrived on the same flight. For Commissaire Léger of the Paris Police coincidences have their reasons, and most are suspect. When a second young Israeli is kidnapped soon after arriving on the same flight, this time at gunpoint from his hotel room, his suspicions are confirmed – and a diplomatic incident looms.
Back in Tel Aviv, Lieutenant Oriana Talmor, Abadi’s deputy, is his only ally, applying her sharp wits to the race to identify the victims and the reasons behind their abduction. In Paris a covert Chinese commando team listens to the investigation unfurl and watches from the rooftops. While by the hour the morgue receives more bodies from the river and the city’s arrondissements.
The clock has been set. And this could be a long night in the City of Lights.
Right, confession time. Having read and struggled to review John Le Carre’s convoluted and uber-ponderous The Little Drummer Girl (and then been bored witless by the equally uber-ponderous TV adaptation) last year, I was understandably nervous about a thriller that, on the face of it, may tread slightly similar ground. Thankfully my fears were quickly dispelled- hallelujah, I hear you cry- and this turned out to be a really rather clever, and absorbing thriller indeed, with an undeniable literary quality in its writing and execution…
Opening with the baffling kidnap of a, it has to be said, quite annoying Israeli tourist from Charles de Gaulles airport in Paris, Dov Alfon constructs a intense and absorbing thriller which brings to the fore the global problem of not only the secrecy and power games within national security agencies, but their inexplicable need to withhold and conceal information from each other. Few are better placed than Alfon, as a former Israeli Intelligence officer himself, to expose to some degree the daily frustrations and power struggles that lay behind these most secret of organisations, and through the power of fiction serve it up to us in its startling reality. I think this was the single most notable factor of this book for me, that all this, for want of a better word, childish squabbling, and some pretty damn deep-seated corruption (that could not all be entirely fictional) frustrates and confuses the investigation, and those charged to carry it out. It was fascinating to bear witness to this and with Alfon’s personal experiences undoubtedly woven into the story, it added an extra level of enjoyment to the book itself. Admittedly at first it was a little confusing to grasp which particular branch of security was which, but as the main players began to be more fully fleshed out, it was easier to decipher who was working with who, and against who for whatever nefarious reason.
I thought the characterisation was superb from the beleaguered and world weary Commissaire Leger in Paris, finding himself involved in a difficult position liaising with the secretive and highly intuitive Colonel Zeev Abadi of the Israeli Intelligence Unit 8200. Abadi is a flawed but incredibly interesting character, whose unique style of investigation and distillation of information received, frustrates not only Leger but others within the disparate branches of Israeli Intelligence. Taken in tandem with the experiences of Abadi’s deputy, the feisty, and at times, wonderfully insubordinate Lieutenant Oriana Talmor, Alfon has succeeded in not only crafting a gripping thriller, but populating this with a cast of entirely credible and absorbing characters. As all their inherent frustrations come to the surface during the course of the investigation, and the external forces that seek to thwart them tighten their grip, Alfon puts his characters under pressure to an alarming degree, but not without its entertainment for the reader. Abadi is a mesmeric character in the way that brooding, loner men always are, and thankfully Talmor has more than enough grit about her to hold her own in the misogynistic institutions that try to suppress her more instinctive methods, and use her steely determination to overcome her recent professional disappointments.
Despite my slightly disparaging comments on Le Carre’s book at the beginning I am a lover of his work, and in terms of the plot construction, Alfon weaves a similar spell, in this dark tale of subterfuge and diplomatic difficulties. Focussing not only on the world of espionage, Alfon also incorporates Israeli- Palestinian relations, embezzlement, a Chinese hit squad and more, using the backdrop of Paris both in its grandeur and grinding poverty to great effect. This is an intelligent but not too complex thriller, less high octane and more measured than some, but nonetheless a fascinating and highly enjoyable read, which kept me hooked. Recommended.
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(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)