#BlogTour- Dov Alfon- A Long Night In Paris

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.

__________________________________________________________________

Buy a copy of A Long Night In Paris here  and catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

 

Liad Shoham- Asylum City

shoham

When social activist Michal Poleg is found dead in her Tel Aviv apartment, her body showing signs of severe violence, officer Anat Nachmias is given the lead on her first murder investigation. Eager to find answers, the talented and sensitive cop looks to the victim’s past for clues, focusing on the last days before her death. Could one of the asylum-seekers Michal worked with be behind this crime?

Then a young African man confesses to the murder, and Anat’s commanders say the case is closed. But the cop isn’t convinced. She believes that Michal, a tiny girl with a gift for irritating people, got involved in something far too big and dangerous for her to handle.

Joined by Michal’s clumsy yet charming boss, Anat is pulled deep into a perplexing shadow world where war victims and criminals, angels and demons, idealists and cynics, aid organisations and criminal syndicates intersect. But the truth may be more than Anat can manage, bringing her face to face with an evil she’s never before experienced…

By sheer coincidence, I was pitched this book about the Eritrean and Ethiopian refugee crisis in Tel Aviv, having been absolutely oblivious to this sensitive social issue. In an interesting instance of art imitating life, I encountered an in-depth newspaper feature within days of starting this book, focussing on this very issue, and the depth of feeling within Israel on this emotive and opinion-splitting aspect of contemporary Israeli society. Likewise, in the author’s acknowledgements, Shoham undertook an enormous amount of research into the social, political and economic aspects of the refugee experience, and those that work so tirelessly on their behalf, with little funding or support from the government. Hence, this proved one of the most thought-provoking and deeply poignant crime novels that I have ever read, being so rooted in reality.

The author’s depth of research comes shining through and Shoham neatly balances all sides of this multi-faceted thriller, both in terms of the contentious central social issue, and in providing an intriguing criminal investigation. Whilst Shoham does not adopt a completely dispassionate tone to the larger issues of the book, there is an incredible sense of authorial balance to the story he presents, as he encapsulates the experiences of all sides through the characters he presents. Hence, we as readers, see the unfolding events through the eyes of the refugees, those that work with them, and the police, whilst also incorporating the less than noble actions of the people smugglers and the Israeli political fraternity. Shoham interweaves all these aspects effortlessly, never resorting to mawkish sentimentality, or adopting a preachy tone as to how we should view the issues he presents. With his rounded view, the reader is encouraged to form their viewpoint, and to gain a greater sense of where their empathies lie, in relation to the characters and the problems they find themselves confronted with.

I found myself quite emotionally spent at times, particularly through certain characters in the book. I thought the characterisation of the Eritrean refugee, Gabriel, who confesses to the murder in a pay-off to ensure the safe passage of his abused sister from some ruthless Bedouin people smugglers, was incredibly emotive. With his artistic bent, and strong moral decency, his plight was incredibly affecting. Likewise, the endeavours of others to protect him, most notably the charity worker, Itai, and police detective, Anat, added a real depth to the plot. The problems that Itai faces as a NGO worker, dealing with the well-being of refugees, and Anat, as a female police officer in charage of her first big case, allows Shoham to embrace the larger issues of racism and sexism at play in their everyday working lives. Both characters are written extremely sensitively, and their faltering attempts to gain justice for Gabriel, whilst negotiating the insidious political powers that be is powerfully wrought throughout. I liked all three of these characters enormously, and admired their moral core and interactions with each other, more and more as the plot progressed.

I have a strong belief that if you want to really gain insight into the way any society functions, crime fiction is the perfect conduit for this, and books such as Asylum City only strengthen this belief for me. With its unwavering critique and observation of society in Tel Aviv and the burgeoning refugee crisis, compounded by a striking and deeply involving murder investigation, Shoham balances every facet of his narrative effortlessly. I cannot recommend this thriller highly enough if you enjoy your crime fiction with a more socially aware edge, as well as adhering to its central tenet of being a highly effective thriller, setting it apart from the more throwaway mass market crime fiction. Excellent.

(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)