Spy in the house

Spy in the house

For the JC published March 24 2017

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, 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 Ben-David, whose Final Stop, Algiers 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 of 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 to spycraft, an insider’s knowledge about Mossad — Ben-David is a former Mossad officer — and its training and reach.

This time round, 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, I became aware that, like my library novelist of long ago, Mishka Ben-David appears to have only one plot.

This can be summarised as follows: young idealistic Israeli joins Mossad, but suffers conflict about methodology. 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 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 re-meets her 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 appearance on the Jeremy Kyle Show as Ben-David 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 if you want to learn how to be an Israeli spy, this is the book for you.

  • 24 March, 2017