A pseudonymous former senior staffer in the Israeli intelligence community has crafted an exciting, highly original espionage thriller. The premise: Israel’s intelligence operatives are getting predictable and lax. The Prime Minister, wishing to shake things up, establishes a nameless new entity under deep cover, an extremely fluid team that answers only to him.
Though recently removed from her position at the Mossad, Ya’ara Stein — beautiful, resourceful, and ruthless — is selected to head this unit. The six team members she recruits generally work in pairs to fulfill missions, developing personal as well as spy-craft relationships. They learn tradecraft on the job: training and assignment execution are compressed into one tense and explosive experience. The group must remain invisible, with no recourse to outside assistance. Group travel is avoided; the fledgling spies and their leaders usually arrive at meetings separately, beginning their journeys at different locations and using different modes of transportation. De Shalit’s handling of these realities is one of the book’s many strengths. He also successfully differentiates the characters while stressing their common commitment and allegiance to Ya’ara, whose cover as a filmmaker is put to good use in the novel.
The students’ training and assignments take them to a variety of interesting locales, from Hamburg, Berlin, and Moscow to London, Tel Aviv, and Paris. Their missions include stopping a terrorist group, composed of descendants of a Red Army cadre, that is hiding out on a remote farm; assassinating a powerful Muslim religious leader who is instigating terrorist action; and killing a terrorist who they feel needs to be eliminated rather than merely brought to conventional justice.
The tension skyrockets over and over in this precise, unglamorous representation of the fight against Islamic and other types of extremist terrorism — and the effects such involvement have on those committed to thwarting it.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.