Summer Reading: A Roundup of New Thrills and Chills
In addition to the ever-popular crime writers Faye Kellerman and Daniel Silva, there are a number of authors not usually known for whodunits with some outstanding debuts. Protagonists run the gamut from the grandfatherly to the maidenly, from ex-Mossadniks to ex-C.I.A., in periods that extend from early Renaissance Italy to contemporary Middle East and the United States.
Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva. (Harper, 455 pp. $26.99)
Summer reading would not be the same without a new installment of Daniel Silva’s spy thriller series featuring its compelling hero Gabriel Allon. In Portrait of a Spy , the art restorer-cum-reluctant spy is drawn back into service after witnessing a suicide explosion in Covent Gardens. As in all Silva’s books, the plot hangs on the scaffold of current events: Al-QAeda has been vanquished but new plotters of international terror are replacing them. In the United States, the new administration is looking for partners between Islam and the West to defeat the forces of extremism, to use “brainpower over brute force.” Yet, a “moderate” American imam recruited by the CIA to infiltrate the Middle Eastern terror networks becomes the voice behind a new terror movement. The Saudis, who ally themselves publicly with the United States, are privately supporting terror groups. The Mossad (who do the dirty work) , Americans and British, undertake a risky operation to find and destroy the masterminds behind the nascent movement. The plot turns on allying with a Saudi female oligarch, Nadia al-Bakari, whose wealth and jihadist credentials will give her entree to the network she wants to support—to avenge the murder of her father by the Mossad.
Many of the character are familiar to Silva readers: Shamron, “retired” head of the Office (Mossad), who is like a father to Gabriel—with all the love and criticism that entails—is back in the picture; as are Chiara, Allon’s beautiful Italian wife, and the rest of his squabbling, dedicated team. Enjoy.
Hangman: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman. (William Morrow, 432 pp. $25.99)
Los Angeles Detective Peter Decker is involved with two investigations—and one of them becomes personal as his family is drawn into it. Terry McLaughlin has disappeared and her 14-year-old son, Gabe, is left behind; her husband is a professional killer and sociopath whom Decker knows from an earlier case. Before disappearing, Terry asked Decker for a favor and soon the talented boy is living with Decker and his wife, Rina, is arranging piano lessons for him; and daughter Hannah is befriending him.
At the same time, Decker is searching for the murderer of a neonatal nurse, Adrianna, hanged at a construction site; her boyfriend has gone missing.
What makes Kellerman’s work stand out, however, is not the long-drawn out investigations but the human element. In this book it is way the Decker/Lazarus family welcomes Gabe and the mature way he handles his relationships with his mother and father.
Kellerman’s next book, Gun Games (William Morrow) will be released in January 2012.
The Borgia Betrayal: A Novel by Sara Poole. (Griffin, 400 pp. $24.99 cloth, $14.99 paper)
This juicy historical fiction has it all: an independent, ruthless heroine in a man’s world determined to revenge her father’s murder; two men who love her (there is bodice ripping with one and self-denial with the other); a pope jockeying to remain in power; his two competitive sons; various nations—Spain, Portugal, Italy and France—that either want to control the new world recently discovered by Columbo or are threatening war against Rome to control the old world.
It is 1493 and the pope has an agreement with Rome’s Jews: He protects them in exchange for the fortunes they give him. Francesca Giordano, the pope’s poisoner, helped elevate Rodrigo Borgia to pope. Now Francesca, whose father was a Converso and had friends in Rome’s Jewish ghetto, must keep the pope safe from his many enemies. As imperfect as the intelligent but temperamental pope may be, he is the Jews’ best hope. Which of the pope’s enemies is trying to destroy him to replace him with one who will support the policies of the Spanish monarchs—and banish the Jews from all Christendom.
Francesca undertakes risky plans to draw out the culprit; but danger remains as innocent people are killed and more plots must be uncovered and defused in this sly and clever work.
Cut Throat Dog by Joshua Sobol. Translated by Dalya Bilu. (Melville House, 270 pp. $15 paper)
Cut Throat Dog is a wild ride—and an introduction to Joshua Sobol’s fiction. Most familiar to Americans as a prolific Israeli playwright (The Jerusalem Syndrome), this is Sobol’s first novel to be translated into English.
The narrator is nicknamed Shakespeare because he is a fertile stream-of-conscious story-teller, and it is not always clear what is true and what is not. He was once a member of a special ops group that eliminated enemies of Jews abroad, and on a visit to New York, Shakespeare is haunted by a man he meets—is the nasty pimp the enemy who killed one of his comrades? As he tries to unravel the connection, Shakespeare bonds with one of the man’s prostitutes (in which they engage in surprisingly sophisticated philosophical dialogue but no sex).
Cut Throat Dog is a literary expression of Israeliness. The nature of Sobol’s complicated protagonist is poetic, but to survive he developed into a fighter. The imaginative, sometimes eerie leaps that fuel the chase in this story, and its manifold and intense philosophical discourses, are a cornucopia of ideas that flow between past and present.
Drop By Drop: A Thriller by Keith Raffel. (E-book, $2.99)
When Sam Rockman’s pregnant wife, Rachel, is killed in a terrorist explosion at San Francisco
airport, his life and psyche are upended: He leaves his position as a professor of history at Stanford to become staff director to a senior member on the Intelligence Committee. The usually liberal Rockman is so angry he is ready to support a bill that will let the C.I.A. and the military operate inside the United States against terrorists.
But the administration is trigger-happy. After hazardous material is found in a Florida highway crash—the administration says the trail leads to a Russian source by way of Sudan—the president has bombers and cruise missiles ready to attack Sudan. There is a strong movement afoot to repeal the 22nd amendment, to allow the tough anti-terror president to run for a third term.
The plot of Drop By Drop is not inherently Jewish, but Sam is, and you are reminded of this throughout; when the president, who invites Sam (who becomes a target of a killer) to head the national anti-terrorism effort, worries that having so many Jews on his staff will trigger paranoia “out there.” Though Sam believes Judaism is less about what you think and more about what you do, his desperate search for tikkun olam is part of learning how to live with his grief.
The Taba Convention: A Jordan Kline Thriller by Stephen W. Ayers. (CreateSpace 320 pp. $14.50)
Just like the author, Stephen W. Ayers, the protagonist in The Taba Convention is a hotelier in Eilat. The difference is that the fictional Jordan Kline switched to that career after he was disillusioned with his clandestine, bloody work for the Mossad in Lebanon.
Unfortunately, the last words of a murdered ex-Mossadnik draw him into uncovering a conspiracy of monumental proportions—“Break Peace”—which will destroy any hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Assassinations, betrayals, extremism treachery and hatred litter the landscape in this fast-paced debut about vigilance for the sake of peace.
The Trials of Zion by Alan Dershowitz. (Grand Central Publishing, 340 pp. $26.99)
A lively if highly improbable thriller set in Jerusalem encompassing suicide bombings, kidnappings, apocalyptic plots, ill-starred romance and, of course, given the author’s litigation record, courtroom dramas. Dershowitz’s hero is Abe Ringel, a prominent attorney, whose idealistic daughter, Emma, is kidnapped while assisting in the defense of an alleged Palestinian terrorist in Jerusalem. Abe, of course, is Super Dad-cum-Legal-Eagle, to the rescue, aided and abetted by his wife who (conveniently enough) is a former Mossad agent and a Jerusalem cousin who also (conveniently enough) is a master of espionage. Coincidences abound in this convoluted and often awkward narrative. Jewish history and family history are offered as afterthoughts and although the reader’s credulity will be sorely taxed, interest and amusement will not flag. —Gloria Goldreich
A Hidden Affair: A Novel by Pam Jenoff. (Atria Books, 320 pp. $22.99)
Jordan Weiss was working for the United States State Department when she learned that her college boyfriend of a decade ago, Jared Short, had not drowned as she had been told but had faked his death. She resigns her commission and starts her odyssey to track down the man she had loved to find out who would want him dead. She traces him to Monaco, where she has a run-in with a beautiful mystery woman, Nicole—but no Jared.
But she does, literally, bump into a man, Israeli Ari Bruck, who is trying to locate Nicole, who is married to Jared. Initially suspicious of each other, they decide to work together, flying to Austria. Nicole, Ari says, is involved with fraudulent high-end wine deals. Ari, a nationalistic Israeli, sees Austrians as Germans who never apologized for what happened during the Holocaust.
The tale gets most interesting when Jordan and Ari become involved in a dangerous escapade to recover “rare bottles of wine” and discover the treachery of apparent friends.
The Things We Cherished: A Novel by Pam Jenoff. (Doubleday, 288 pp. $24.95)
The reader might care more about the romantic interests in Jenoff’s soon to be released book, The Things We Cherished, which once again combines romance and mystery. Charlotte Gold, a child of Holocaust survivors, and Jack Harrington, the son of privilege, had once been in love, but circumstances intervened. Years later, both are attorneys, and Charlotte is shocked when Jack reappears and asks for her help in defending the brother of a rescuer accused of collaborating with the Nazis.
The novel takes the two from Philadelphia to Munich to Wadowice to Katowice to Breslau (Poland), as well as Lake Como, Italy, from events that happened during World War II to East Berlin in 1961 to 2009. They must find out why wealthy financier Roger Dykmans will not speak up to defend himself. The lawyers are seeking an intricate timepiece, which, Dykmans says, will prove he is not a traitor.