Posted: June 11, 2013 in Book Awards, Israel, review

51qyzRJRCNL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_One evening at a police station in suburban Tel Aviv, Hannah Sharabi reports her sixteen year old son Ofer is missing. Inspector Avraham Avraham [probably a tribute to Meyer Meyer in the 87th precinct books of Ed McBain] dismisses her with a stupid story that Israel doesn’t have crimes like those in books like Agatha Christie or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and that: Regular kids don’t just disappear. 

He almost immediately regrets his attitude, and the next morning when the mother returns, he organises a search for the young man. Avi Avraham is a 38 year old single cop who leads a very dull life outside work, dealing with his elderly parents, and thinking dream-like about his platonic relationship with Ilana, his female superior officer. He is an ordinary policeman in a country where any really serious crime might be referred to the Shin Bet, internal security service.

The story is told from Avi’s perspective, and also from the perspective of a neighbour Ze’ev Avni, who was a part time tutor to Ofer, and who wishes to insert himself into the search and investigation in an unsettling way. He is a teacher, a writer, a little crazy, with an enormous chip on both shoulders. He tells Avi about the school where he teaches.

At fourteen they are already movie directors. Little Spielbergs. Some are poets and writers; they form rock bands and work on albums. They derive their confidence not from themselves but from their environment, from their parents, from society, which tells them they can do anything and everything, that they excel at everything. I am not saying it’s a bad thing, although it may sound like it. I’m simply stating the facts. Ofer comes from a different place and was a different child. 

When he says he is simply stating the facts he is actually just giving his opinion. Ze’ev may be clinically crazy, but he is a far more interesting character than Avi.

The narrative is quite slow, and Avi Avraham does not seem to be a very bright detective, clashing with colleagues; young fireball Shrapstein, the more experienced Ma’alul, and even Ilana. He suggests that Ofer is lying on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, and I was not sure if he was serious.

‘How do I know he isn’t there. I don’t know anything.’

‘You can find out. You can check with Border Security if he has left the country. He didn’t get on a plane with a false passport. He’s not a Mossad agent , he’s a schoolboy.’

Avi likes to watch crime TV and point out the errors the detectives make, but does not seem to notice his own caused by indecision and self doubt. The author is a literary scholar specialising in the history of detective literature, so we get numerous references to Agatha Christie, and he produced a story to make the reader think twice about the truth, and the assumed truth.

During the search for Ofer, Avi Avraham takes a side trip as part of a police exchange scheme to Brussels. An amusing tribute to Hercule Poirot? But the police there are dealing with a murder of a young woman, Johanna Getz, a fictional case that copies exactly, almost incident for incident, suspect for suspect, the  murder in Bristol of Joanna Yeates. 

‘Who was it? Avraham asked, and Jean-Marc said, ‘A neighbour. A different neighbour-not the landlord. A psychopath who lives on the first floor.’ 

I thought this was entirely unneccessary and a bit unsettling. It was particularly bizarre when  a blurb on the cover from Henning Mankell mentions the author writing with “profound originality”.

I very much wanted to enjoy this Israeli novel and did up to a point. But I am just not sure the author managed to create a special enough lead character who I would want to follow through any more books.  

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Oh, I’ve heard some different things about this one. Some absolute raves and some…maybe not quite so enthusiastic. It does interest me but perhaps I’ll wait on this one…

  2. Mrs P. says:

    I have this one lined up on my Kindle for a long train journey tomorrow. Have seen somewhat varying reviews, but keen to try some Israeli crime as I’ve not read any before now.

  3. Oh how interesting Norman. It seems I liked the book more than you did but I’m not sure I’d want to read any more featuring the same detective (you’re right – I don’t think he’s that interesting – though perhaps more realistic than most of the genius detectives we meet in fiction land). I did however think the plot was excellent and the Ze’ev character was compelling – awful but compelling – and strangely believable.

  4. kathy d. says:

    The library has it so I’ll give it a try.

  5. […] Missing File has been reviewed by Norman at Crime Scraps Review, NacyO at The Year in books, Bernadette at Reactions to Reading, Lynn Harvey at Euro Crime, Jen at […]

  6. kathy d. says:

    I’m on page 60 and finding it very slow, and also not liking the second narrative — really. I have to drag myself to open this book, almost like facing a trip to the dentist’s office — no offense. But I’ll persevere and see what happens.
    So far, I have no inkling of why this was nominated for a CWA Dagger. Seriously.

    • Norman Price says:

      Why was this shortlisted? I suspect it was a combination of other better books not being nominated and wanting to get away from Scandinavian crime fiction.

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