Somewhere at the back of my mind, I am rather hoping that Liad Shoham is an international spy with a murderous CV to draw upon as he writes his best-selling thrillers. But unless Shoham is a very good actor — and it’s hard to tell on the phone — I am stuck with the conclusion that he is what says he is, a self-confessed geek. That’s in addition to being a polite lawyer and a devoted husband and father.
Shoham is Israel’s number one thriller writer, with five books behind him and his latest novel,LineUp, is now published here. Inspired by a method of narrative from TV’s The Wire, it tells a tense story from the viewpoint of a number of characters. A woman is brutally raped and an innocent man is arrested after her outraged father spots someone suspicious in the neighbourhood. The suspect was there for another reason, but cannot say why.
Born in Tel Aviv, the diplomat’s son spent his early childhood in his father’s posting, Paris. After a first degree at the Hebrew University, he came to London in 1997 to do a law course and it was in London, he says, that his writing career began.
“I had a fabulous year at LSE and when I came back to Israel I started work as a lawyer,” he recalls. But it was a very small, cramped office and I was a bit depressed. So I began writing stories about my adventures in London.” These stories eventually morphed into Shoham’s first book, London in a Pitta Bread,and helped him, he says, to understand his essential Israeliness. This included a kind of in-built contrariness which Shoham reckons to be the hallmark of Israelis abroad. He remembers a Hebrew guidebook to London highlighting “a beautiful garden in Hammersmith. But it had a notice on the garden: ‘Private,keep out.’ Every Israeli I know simply walks right in.”
Scandi noir, the thriller genre with which Britain has fallen in love, is not really his bag. To begin with, he complains gently that Israel is such a close and family-oriented society that many of the thriller tropes available to other writers simply wouldn’t work. Send your protagonist far, far away where he can hide? Shoham can only stretch as far as Eilat and, in any case, he says, too many people in Israel will march up to a stranger and ask which unit in the army they served in.
As for sex scenes, forget it. Shoham is still shuddering from trying to write meaningful high-wire moments for a nation of Jewish mothers. He cites his wife as his secret weapon, joking: “I fell in love with a criminal mastermind.” It is she who has come up with some of the elegant plot twists in LineUp. “She has beautiful ideas,” says her besotted husband, though admitting “it is a little bit frightening”.
Shoham’s next book to be published in the UK will be Asylum City, based on meticulous research in the dark back alleys of Tel Aviv among the often illegal asylum seekers. Asylum City is also currently being adapted for Israeli TV.Though he may well have stuck out like a sore thumb in his asylum research — a white, middle-class lawyer — the equable Shoham remains cheerful.
“Usually, people want to tell their stories,” he says.