A Spy in Exile: A Thriller

Jonathan de Shalit

  • Review
By – March 4, 2019

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.

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