Thriller ‘A Spy in Exile’
A Spy in Exile: A Thriller By Jonathan de Shalit (Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 384 pp. $27)
In this gripping new thriller, Jonathan de Shalit—the pseudonym used by a former high-ranking member of the Israeli intelligence community—reprises the character of Ya’ara Stein, the ruthless Mossad agent he featured in his first spy novel, Traitor. In that earlier story, Stein had been ejected from the agency for being “undisciplined, unpredictable, and too prone to violence.” However, Stein’s ability to assess situations and make quick decisions are just the traits the prime minister wants when he selects her to set up a clandestine team to do whatever is necessary to keep Israel safe.
In real life, de Shalit is paying homage to his literary hero, the equally pseudonymous John Le Carré, whose autobiography, The Pigeon Tunnel, de Shalit translated into Hebrew. A Spy in Exile is not quite in the same league as Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but there is ample room in the literary canon for good mysteries, and de Shalit’s new work provides suspense centering on a complex lead character.
With the aid of Amnon, a trusted former colleague, Stein recruits and trains a force capable of killing Israel’s adversaries. “We’ll look for people who are missing a part of their soul,” Stein asserts. In protest, Amnon says, “And yet they must still be trustworthy, stable, cool-headed and all that.” “Yes,” she agrees.
For starters, the new force goes after a missing woman with ties to Stein’s past in Berlin, in what is supposed to be a straightforward operation. In a throwback to the terrorism that rocked Europe in the 1970s, the team discovers that Russians are involved—and also, possibly, a new offshoot of the Irish Republican Army that may be planning a series of attacks on England and Germany.
Is all this plausible? Not necessarily. The plotting can be a bit confusing and the pacing lugubrious, but readers will still enjoy this tension-ﬁlled thriller with a strong, independent heroine. Look for Stein in de Shalit’s next installment, Madagascar, which recently won clearance for publication from three Israeli governmental agencies, as did his earlier books.
Stewart Kampel was a longtime editor at The New York Times.