A Long Night in Paris By Dov Alfon (Trans: Daniella Zamir)
Maclehose Press, £18.99
Dov Alfon was born in Paris and lived there until his family emigrated to Israel when he was 11. He later joined the Haaretz newspaper in 1989 and was editor-in-chief from 2008-11. In 2016, he published his first novel, A Long Night in Paris, which spent 22 weeks at number one in the best-seller charts. It has now been translated into English by Daniella Zamir.
The novel — a thriller — begins with the abduction of a young marketing manager for an Israeli software company. He arrives at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, is met by a glamorous blonde in a short red dress and disappears without trace. In no time, there are five bodies, one Israeli, one French and three Chinese. And that is just the beginning. The bodies pile up as French police and Israeli intelligence chase around Paris (and Israel) trying to stop the mayhem.
A Long Night in Paris is indeed long, over 400 pages, but it’s a page-turner, with short, zippy chapters, often just a couple of pages, moving between France and Israel. The plot is full of twists and turns, involving a fascinating mix of Israeli intelligence officers, Chinese hit-men, Arab drug-dealers and the most incompetent French policemen since Inspector Clouseau.
What gives the novel its distinctive feel, though, is a sense of an exciting new world, full of astonishing new gadgets. It makes James Bond look old-fashioned. Alfon spent four years in Unit 8200 in the Israel Defence Force, working in technological intelligence, and it shows. The leading character, Abadi, from Israeli military intelligence, is given a new kind of smartphone “with tracking capabilities, the brainchild of 8200’s technology centre”, which comes with its own encryption system. The Chinese hit-men have heat-sensitive weapons so they can shoot someone even in pitch dark when they are unable to see their victims.
The French police plod along and, while Abadi and his sidekick Oriana, both from a souped-up version of Mossad, think fast, they are held up by the impossible office politics of the Israeli secret service where everyone seems out to get everyone else.
The reviewer from Alfon’s old stamping ground, Haaretz, compares Alfon with Le Carré, with the new hi-tech exponents of China and Israel replacing Le Carré’s Cold War spies. But there is a deeper flaw in the comparison: Le Carré has the ability to create characters you really care about, most famously George Smiley, and a sense of old England in decline. Alfon can’t match this. Nevertheless, this being a thriller for the Netflix age, he has already sold the TV rights to the producers of Homeland and Fauda.
Look out for Abadi and Oriana on your screens soon.
David Herman is a senior JC reviewer. Dov Alfon will be speaking at Jewish Book Week on March 5