Ac­tion re­play

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ES­PI­ONAGE

YEARS AGO, I used to en­joy — in a bad way — the books of a nov­el­ist who shall re­main anony­mous to spare her blushes. The point was that it didn’t re­ally mat­ter which of the writer’s many oeu­vres I got out of the li­brary, as the plot was essen­tially the same in ev­ery book.

And so I turn to Is­raeli Mishka BenDavid,

whose Fi­nal Stop, Al­giers (Hal­ban Pub­lish­ers, £11.99) is the third of his Mos­sad spy thrillers to be pub­lished in English.

I rather en­joyed Duet in Beirut, the first pub­lished here and, in­deed, my favourable re­view is one of a num­ber reprinted in the pref­ace to the Al­giers paper­back.

But it has to be ad­mit­ted that I came to Duet in Beirut fresh and with no pre­con­cep­tions, and ad­mired it as some­thing of a primer on spy­craft, an in­sider’s knowl­edge about Mos­sad (Ben-David is a for­mer Mos­sad of­fi­cer), its train­ing and reach.

This time around, how­ever, I am three books the wiser and, for me, that is a mat­ter of re­gret.

I can see that if Fi­nal Stop, Al­giers would be the first of Ben-David’s of­fer­ings for the reader, then his de­scrip­tions of how his young — and nec­es­sar­ily naive — pro­tag­o­nist learns to be a Mos­sad agent, could be fas­ci­nat­ing. Un­for­tu­nately, I have read many of these de­scrip­tions be­fore in Ben-David’s pre­vi­ous books.

And, even more un­for­tu­nately, as I read on, I be­came aware that, like my li­brary nov­el­ist of long ago, Mishka BenDavid ap­pears to have only one plot.

This can be sum­marised as fol­lows: young ide­al­is­tic Is­raeli joins Mos­sad but suf­fers con­flict about method­ol­ogy. He then has var­i­ous for­eign ad­ven­tures and a tow­er­ing love in­ter­est which even­tu­ally be­comes more im­por­tant to him than be­ing in Mos­sad. Con­flict be­tween love and coun­try is usu­ally re­solved in favour of love.

In Fi­nal Stop, Al­giers, our hero, Mickey Simhoni, has a coup de foudre with a young woman he meets on his post-IDF tour of Ja­pan.

By the time he is in Mos­sad, he meets her again and a se­ries of im­prob­a­ble ad­ven­tures en­sue, de­picted in a kind of plod­ding tour-guide prose as the pair go to sev­eral coun­tries.

The last 50 pages re­sem­ble an episode of the Jeremy Kyle Show as BenDavid strug­gles to pull to­gether dan­gling plot lines.

At the end of the book, he writes of the real-life ter­ror at­tacks which in­spired his work but, like a pre­vi­ous reviewer of his sec­ond novel, For­bid­den Love in St Peters­burg (and you now know what that is about), I felt that Al­giers could have ben­e­fited from a much more ruth­less edit.

But, of course, if you want to learn how to be an Is­raeli spy, this is the book for you.


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