The international flood of detective fiction continues unabated. LINEUP is Israeli noir, a fine debut novel by Liad Shoham (with translation duties deftly handled by Sara Katai). Set in Tel Aviv, the book is part mystery, part caper, and all good from beginning to end. If I were pitching it to someone, I’d call Shoham an Israeli Jason Starr, because this is precisely the type of book that Starr does so well. There are a bunch of bad guys in the mix, and the good guys aren’t entirely sympathetic. Perhaps most importantly, readers can see themselves screwing up in exactly the same way the protagonist does.
LINEUP begins with a violent evening rape in a usually quiet and safe Tel Aviv neighborhood. The father of the victim is incensed with what he perceives (not altogether incorrectly) to be a lack of police progress. He begins his own investigation, haunting the area where the assault took place, and is sure that he has spotted the culprit when he sees a man named Ziv Nevo acting suspiciously. Nevo somewhat matches the victim’s vague description of the rapist and is unable to give a good accounting for himself as to why he was in the neighborhood and what he was doing. Nevo is no angel; the reader does not learn precisely what he was doing in the area until much later in the book, but it certainly wasn’t legal.
"LINEUP is a dark and gritty work, sometimes depressing but always interesting. Shoham wisely keeps the highly charged political situation in Israel out of the story, for the most part, using it only briefly as a scenic backdrop."
What is all but certain, however, is that Nevo did not commit the rape. That ultimately may not matter, though. Eli Nachum, the police detective in charge of the investigation, is feeling pressure from up above to close the case as quickly as possible. The district attorney wants a conviction. And Nevo’s attorney, an overworked and uninterested public defender, needs to put the case behind him.
The problem is that Nachum and the prosecution really don’t have any evidence. Nevo is jawboned into a plea bargain and released, a situation that worries his somewhat shady associates, who fear that he has cut a deal for his release. Worse, another rape is committed within hours of Nevo again becoming a free man. The mob and the police are both looking for him for the wrong reasons. The sad thing is that Nevo isn’t a totally bad guy. Shoham does an excellent job of demonstrating how a very poor error in judgment leads to bad consequences, resulting in a bad choice that, when combined with the evil of bad companions, leads to...well, doing something that one shouldn’t be doing and then getting blamed for something else. By the time the dust settles and the smoke clears, Nevo is in hiding, and his child and ex-wife are in as much danger as he is. Meanwhile, the true rapist is still out there.
LINEUP is a dark and gritty work, sometimes depressing but always interesting. Shoham wisely keeps the highly charged political situation in Israel out of the story, for the most part, using it only briefly as a scenic backdrop. He focuses on the issues of resolution and redemption as applicable to several of the characters, as well as the twin mysteries concerning the identity of the rapist and what Nevo was really doing when he attracted so much unfavorable attention. We’ll look forward to more of Shoham’s work --- he has published five novels in Israel thus far --- when the translations arrive, which hopefully will be sooner rather than later.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 6, 2013