October 21, 2018

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Universal traits to Israeli murder mystery

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2014 (1394 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We can so easily forget half a world away that Israelis have ordinary daily lives just like everyone else -- daily lives that could even involve murder.

A young social-justice activist is found murdered in her Tel Aviv apartment, and police detective Anat Nachmias is assigned to head her first murder investigation.

Immediately, of course, the reader will assume that Asylum City is all about terrorism and Hamas and Gaza and Hezbollah and Middle East politics.

It is political, but not in the way you'd expect.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2014 (1394 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

We can so easily forget half a world away that Israelis have ordinary daily lives just like everyone else — daily lives that could even involve murder.

A young social-justice activist is found murdered in her Tel Aviv apartment, and police detective Anat Nachmias is assigned to head her first murder investigation.

Immediately, of course, the reader will assume that Asylum City is all about terrorism and Hamas and Gaza and Hezbollah and Middle East politics.

It is political, but not in the way you'd expect.

The prime suspect in the murder is a young man from Africa who's come to Israel as a refugee; prime suspect, yes, but if things weren't as they seem they wouldn't call these novels mysteries.

Asylum City is about what author Liad Shoham tells us is a too-familiar struggle of refugees trying to find a new home, of unfamiliar societies in which some welcome them, some would close the borders, and some would exploit them.

Shoham is a practising lawyer in Israel and author of five previous crime novels. While Shoham has a degree from the London School of Economics, where he presumably studied in English, he wrote Asylum City in Hebrew and used a translator.

Fascinating though these often-exotically set overseas police procedurals may be, the translator always plays a key role — some novels, among them some of the ubiquitous Icelandic and Scandinavian thrillers, can feel stilted in translation.

Asylum City's dialogue feels quite natural and the narrative moves smoothly.

Shoham wrote the book for an Israeli audience, and it's no surprise that foreign readers may not always understand the cultural context or geographic locations.

Is it universal that senior police officers treat young investigators, and especially young female cops, with such contempt, and cave in so often to political pressures? Is it in fact universal that there are always political pressures in any criminal investigation, be it Rebus in Edinburgh or Bosch in Los Angeles or Morse in Oxford or Nachmias in Tel Aviv?

Shohan is obviously on the liberal side of Israeli politics, and whether this is an accurate depiction of Israelis' attitudes towards immigrants and the exploitation of third-world people who have no power or choice, may be a matter of opinion among Israelis. Asylum City considers it a given that helping refugees is a good thing.

The characters are well-drawn and the mystery is, well, properly mysterious. Nachmias isn't the most fully realized character you'll find in police fiction — unlike some, she's not on every page, but she's spunky and she's relentless. Further cases should follow.

It's a darned good read and a welcome addition to the almost-exponentially growing field of overseas mystery novels.

 

Free Press education reporter Nick Martin is still awaiting police procedurals set in his hometown of Jarrow-on-Tyne.

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