Inspector Avi Avraham is on duty at the Holon police station when Hannah Sharabi reports her teenage son, Ofer, missing. He’s a little blasé about it though as it’s only been a couple of hours since the boy should have been home from school and anyway, he explains, the reason they don’t produce crime novels like Christie or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in Israel is
“…we don’t have crimes like that. We don’t have serial killers; we don’t have kidnappings; and there aren’t many rapists out there attacking women on the streets. Here, when a crime is committed, it’s usually the neighbor, the uncle, the grandfather, and there’s no need for a complex investigation to find the criminal and clear up the mystery.”
But after convincing her to go home and wait for her son Avraham is worried that he ought to have done more…at least instigated some kind of search…and definitely not shared his theory about Israel’s lack of detective stories. So when Mrs Sharabi returns the next morning with her husband’s brother (her husband is away for his work) to report Ofer’s continued absence Avraham is quick to set the gears in motion to start looking for a missing person, though he will be haunted for some time by the fear that his lack of immediate action has led to the difficulties in solving the case.
I almost held my breath at the beginning of the novel because I was a little fearful that Avraham would be a bundle of genre clichés but I needn’t have worried and I soon started to enjoy the process of getting to know this rarity in crime fiction – an Israeli policeman. He has his 38th birthday during the story, is a bit of a loner, has lived and worked in a fairly small area for his whole life, has a somewhat awkward relationship with his parents and is a dedicated cop though not a terribly confident one.
The other character we come to know well is Ze’ev. He teaches English and lives in the same apartment block as the Sharabi family and through him we see the missing persons investigation from another perspective. But it is not clear what perspective he is offering – was he involved in the disappearance? Does he know something more than he is letting on? He certainly tries to insert himself into things at first by making sure the police know he tutored Ofer for some months and then by undertaking some bizarre, and possibly sinister, actions.
I really loved the way the plot developed in this novel. Partly I think that was because of this dual structure which allowed some events to only be seen from one perspective and other events to be seen from two points of view which added just the right amount of uncertainty to my thinking about what might have transpired. The investigation smacks of realism: things happen in real time rather than ‘tv crime fiction time’, when the key players do not reveal all they know about a thing it is believable, and there is a real sense of Avraham’s frustration and worry that he is not doing enough or the right things. Happily the book even has a cracking, if disturbing, ending.
As Israel is one of my favourite places to have visited and I’ve long wanted to find some crime fiction set there my only disappointment in the book is that it really doesn’t have much sense of its setting (aside from a few place names dropped during a bit of tourism towards the end of the book). However, I can’t really hold this against the author as he’s done a great job of depicting a realistic modern police investigation, versions of which might take place just about anywhere in the world.
I bought this book as soon as I saw it was set in Israel and knew nothing else about it and am happy to report it was a most enjoyable read. I’m not the only one who thinks so either as last weekend it was shortlisted for this year’s International Dagger Award for translated crime fiction. I can’t promise you a particularly Israeli-feeling book if you decide to give it a go but if you’re looking for a first rate missing persons story that deftly unpicks the layers of secrets people carry with them then I highly recommend it.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Steven Cohen
Publisher Quercus [this edition 2013, original Hebrew edition 2011]
Length 404 pages
Format eBook (kindle)
Book Series #1? in the Avi Avraham series
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