Today on the Vis­it­ing Scribe, D. A. Mis­hani con­tin­ues with his series The Mys­tery of the Hebrew Detec­tive,” where he has been inves­ti­gat­ing why it’s so dif­fi­cult to write a detec­tive in Israel. His first detec­tive nov­el, The Miss­ing File, was pub­lished by Harp­er. He will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

I’ll try to sum­ma­rize the new prob­lem of writ­ing a detec­tive in Hebrew in a sim­ple way. The biog­ra­phy of the typ­i­cal hero of Israeli canon­i­cal lit­er­a­ture, from its begin­nings, is more or less this: he’s a man; he was born in Europe, or in lat­er peri­ods to a fam­i­ly of Euro­pean ori­gins; he has sur­vived the Holo­caust, or was born to a fam­i­ly of sur­vivors. He grew up in a kib­butz, joined the army and served in one of the elit­ist units, was maybe even injured in 1967 or 1973, and some­time lat­er on joined the Mossad. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the pro­tag­o­nist of the real­is­tic crime nov­el set in Israel can­not have this biog­ra­phy. The Israeli police force, from its ear­ly days until today, is com­posed main­ly of Mizrahim (Israelis com­ing to Israel from Arab or Mus­lim coun­tries) and those who grew up in the social and cul­tur­al periph­eries of Israel. 

Thus, the cul­tur­al image of the police force and the police inves­ti­ga­tor in Israel is always slight­ly deject­ed. For exam­ple, the most mem­o­rable image of the cop in Israeli cul­ture is by no doubt that of Police­man Azoulay,” the pro­tag­o­nist of the pop­u­lar com­ic film made by Efraim Kishon in 1971. Azoulay is from Moroc­can ori­gins, and he is a pathet­ic – although heart-break­ing – char­ac­ter. He can cer­tain­ly be the pro­tag­o­nist of a pop­u­lar com­e­dy, but can he be the seri­ous hero of a detec­tive nov­el, mean­ing a char­ac­ter that’s sup­posed to be brighter, sharp, and more intel­li­gent than others? 

This is, in brief, the dilem­ma that an aspir­ing crime writer faces when try­ing to write an Israeli real­is­tic police-pro­ce­dur­al that also aims to be canon­i­cal lit­er­a­ture: Should he break the rules of Real­ism and cre­ate a police inves­ti­ga­tor that might have the same biog­ra­phy of the typ­i­cal Israeli pro­tag­o­nist and thus can be accept­ed as a poten­tial hero of Israeli cul­ture? Or should he stick to an ambi­tion to be real­is­tic and cre­ate a Mizrahi police offi­cer work­ing in the periph­eries of Israeli soci­ety, and face the prob­a­bil­i­ty of being con­demned to lit­er­ary marginality? 

Or in oth­er words: Can Israeli cul­ture accept a Mizrahi police offi­cer as the pro­tag­o­nist of a seri­ous real­is­tic canon­i­cal detec­tive series, mean­ing as one of its heroes, just as Holmes is a hero of British cul­ture, as Inspec­tor Mai­gret is a hero of French Lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture, and as Phillip Mar­lowe is an Amer­i­can hero? 

Read the final install­ment of D. A. Mis­hani’s The Mys­tery of the Hebrew Detec­tive” here.

D. A. Mis­hani | Jew­ish Book Coun­cilD. A. Mis­hani is an Israeli crime writer, edi­tor, and lit­er­ary schol­ar, spe­cial­iz­ing in the his­to­ry of detec­tive fic­tion. His first detec­tive nov­el, The Miss­ing File, the first in a lit­er­ary detec­tive series fea­tur­ing police Inspec­tor Avra­ham Avra­ham, was pub­lished in the U.S. by Harper­Collins. The sec­ond nov­el in the series, A Pos­si­bil­i­ty of Vio­lence, will be pub­lished in the US in 2014.