Books: Whodunits from Israel
Lineup: A Novel By Liad Shoham. Translated by Sara Kitai. (HarperCollins, 320 pp. $25.99)
Lineup is not Israel’s No. 1 thriller writer Liad Shoham’s first crime novel; it’s his sixth. But it is his first to be translated into English, with its release in September; another of Shoham’s books, Asylum City, will follow next year.
Shoham’s veteran Tel Aviv detective Eli Nachum is in danger of being pushed out of his job. In a profession where colleagues usually cover for one another, Nachum is taken to task by his superiors—as well as betrayed by an underling—for not following procedure, a serious lapse in judgement.
After a young woman’s rape, her distraught father believes a suspicious-looking man on her block is the rapist and pressures her to identify him in a picture he has taken. He then brought the picture to the police. Instead of properly ruling the picture as inadmissible, Nachum is so convinced by the father of the man’s guilt—he fits the physical criteria—that he uses it in a lineup.
The story branches off into the sad, complicated life of the suspect, Ziv Nevo, who was guilty not of the rape but of carrying out a deadly and illegal job for the mob. More frightened of the thugs than the police, he protests the accusation but refuses to divulge what he was doing on the victim’s block.
There are deals made, budding romances, car bombs that don’t detonate, a wannabe journalist—and a final, very satisfying resolution in which a telescope-bearing bubbe finally spills the beans.
Welcome to a new mystery series and a new detective out of Israel. The author, himself an editor of Israeli fiction and crime literature, is a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature.
Holon police inspector Avraham Avraham, giving his standard lecture to a mother who is seeking help to find her missing 16-year-old son, says there are no detective novels in Hebrew because, “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….”
The mother reports that her son went to school and never came home. Her husband is a sailor and was away at the time. They also have a daughter who is developmentally disabled. A neighbor, who is a teacher involves himself in the investigation and becomes the prime suspect.
The pace of the novel is glacial and wrong turns are taken. But Avraham, whose errors seem likely to move him into an early retirement, eventually gets back on track. The reviews of this new series have been mixed, but the flowing narrative, the artfully executed deposition and the conclusion of the case make this worth reading. Bring on the next book in the series.
Portuguese-born Ruth Shidlo is a psychologist and first-time author who lives in Tel Aviv. Her Jerusalem-based Detective Inspector Helen Mirkin is a cultured woman—her avocation is music, she sings in a choir and appreciates art. She is also outspoken about her likes and dislikes.
She is tremendously sympathetic to the opera singer who was the same-sex spouse of the woman found shot in Rose Park and goes through all the steps to eliminate her as a suspect. On the other hand, when advising her on burial, she expresses her dislike of haredi rabbis, saying, “there’s no way I’d tolerate insincere, assembly-line-style mumblings….[making arrangements] with the vultures-in-black.”
The victim has marks on her scalp that show she was irradiated for a brain metastasis, but her records are missing—and so is the doctor who insisted she undergo the procedure. There is much more that is strange in the City Hospital where the dead woman used to interview prospective IVF clients for a program; the program is headed by a charismatic professor, who is also involved in genetic engineering. The questions grow when another woman is found shot in the head in a rosebush and then, later, two men are shot as well.
The conclusion is not overwhelmingly surprising, but the road there is lively. You can look forward to another installment in this series.