Asylum City: A Novel by Liad Shoham. Translated by Sara Kitai. (Harper, 336 pp. $25.99)
Liad Shoham’s second crime novel translated into English (Lineup was his first) missed Hadassah Magazine’s 2014 mystery roundup, but it is too good a book to miss.
Reminiscent of the richly drawn mini societies that the late Israeli author Dalya Bilu used to create, Shoham’s world of African asylum seekers in Israel has all the related elements: sympathetic aid workers, self-promoting government attorneys whose goal is to deport the Ethiopians and Eritreans who illegally crossed into Israel from Egypt (without acknowledging the danger they face in their native land upon deportation), Bedouin and Israeli criminals who exploit and intimidate the refugees financially and sexually and police who are pressured to solve crimes expeditiously—even if they have not turned over every stone to assure they have caught the real criminal.
Michal Poleg, a volunteer at OMA (Organization for Migrant Aid), where she is an irritatingly outspoken defender of African refugees, is killed after she filed a complaint with the Bar Association against an assistant state attorney for concealing a legal opinion of the Foreign Ministry that might have saved the life of a deportee. On the eyewitness testimony of an elderly neighbor, the police search for a young Eritrean suspect, Gabriel. The push of the legal system to find, convict and close the case against Gabriel is suspect to the intelligent and rational sensibilities of policewoman Anat Nachmias and the awakened activism of Itai Fisher, Poleg’s coworker.
There are some great characters of all shades of bad: from obnoxious, self-serving prosecutors to callous and uncaring mobster-entrepreneurs to ruthless and murderous criminals. And there is always some unfinished business. Shimon Faro, who created the underground banking system that serves the illegal immigrants—his other business is buying unused weapons and selling them through second and third parties to those terrorist organizations—also appeared in Lineup, and is sure to reappear in Shoham’s other books, which we hope will be translated into English soon.