In this excellent tale of a reluctant Israeli assassin put back into harness, S. Khubiar makes cultural and religious differences contained in the marriage of a practicing Jew and a wealthy Protestant as perilous as machine-gun sprays and choke-holds.
The theme of a spy tortured by their work is such a well-worn cliché that the mere appearance of them, however brief and undeveloped, provokes in readers the automatic assumption that such a character has a hole in their soul that not even retirement can fill. Such is the case with Khubiar’s Shahla. Under the cover of research work at an American Federal Prison, Shahla is in fact a wet work specialist for the Mossad. In her portrayal, Khubiar is more John Le Carre than Ian Fleming, and thus her initial patriotism has been eaten away by the thuggish tactics and back alley assassinations she performed for Israel. And to add cliché to cliché, her intelligence handlers will not let her escape from this squalid world.
But Khubiar adds more depth to Shahla and avoids the alcoholic burn-outs and morally compromised characters that frequent Le Carre’s novels. Serving an Israel that, due to continuous street battles and air strikes with the Arab world, trains its children in combat as soon as they can shoulder a weapon, Shahla pines for her lost childhood. Thankfully for her, the violence she engages in is done on auto pilot, and this affords the reader the black humor of Shahla recalling the smell of Jewish bread while crunching the bones of her attackers.
But Shalah’s fervent Judaism, which previously was a healing factor for the killings she once committed, weighs on her conscience even though the violence she returns to is simply to keep her alive. Added to this burden is the horrors inherent in most, if not all, marriages. For Shahla labors under a dysfunctional marriage that, on its own, would be horrific because of the volatile personality of her husband. But added to these “deaths by a thousand cuts” are the cultural and religious clashes with her Protestant husband.
Khubiar fulfills the demands of the thriller genre in getting readers to turn the page, while at the same time educating them in the mysteries of Judaism. This is quite a feat, it and Khubiar’s success in carrying it off shows that he is capable of writing about themes not quite so violent.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader