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Book Review: A Possibility of Violence

By (July 20, 2014) No Comment

A Possibility of Violencea possibility of violence cover
By D. A. Mishani
Harper, 2014

The boringly titled but competently done inaugural volume in D. A. Mishani’s mystery novel series, The Missing File, introduced Avraham Avraham, a police detective working out of the largely peaceful, upscale Tel Aviv neighborhood of Holon. Mishani, a Tel Aviv native himself, had the minor inspiration of importing the dour, hum-drum workaholic middle-aged male investigators so inexplicably popular in Norwegian crime fiction to warmer climes, to transplant these bored, boring, monosyllabic, and dimwitted louts mutatis mutandis to the brassy heat and endless sunlight of Israel.

Hence Avraham, whose lovely girlfriend Marianka lives in Brussels and wants to improve him, whose colleagues consider him as solid as a rock, and who, like his Icelandic counterparts, works as a police detective because it has steady hours and paid vacation time, not out of any desire to right wrongs or solve crimes (nor any particular ability to, either: The Missing File’s admittedly riveting climax turns on the fact that when the chips are down, Avraham simply isn’t all that competent at his job).

As A Possibility of Violence opens, Avraham is nearing the end of the summer he took off from work in order to ease the psychic pain of botching his last case. He’s been vacationing in Brussels with Marianka, but now he’s back home and thinking about having her join him:

He’d returned to Israel a few days before this, at the beginning of September.

He had a few more days of vacation remaining, until after Rosh Hashanah, and he devoted them to preparing the apartment for Marianka’s arrival. In the early-morning hours, a bit after sunrise, he went to the beach in Tel Aviv, dipped his feet in the water, and smoked his first cigarette, facing the soft waves.

His vacation is almost over, and he quickly finds himself drawn back into an examination that opens with a suspect leaving a fake bomb outside a daycare center. He returns to the precinct house and greets his old comrades and meets his new commander, Benny Saban, who welcomes him cautiously – he’s desperately short of men but wary of Avraham. In Saban’s later briefing, the returned detective is brought up to speed with the recent city events:

“We had a long and difficult and violent summer,” he said. “In June, Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods ignited. Refugee infiltrators without work or shelter … residents’ increasing complaints and cases of sexual assault and burglary … organized acts of revenge … Molotov cocktails … arson of homes and refugee centers. At staff meetings there was a sense that at any moment the fire could start burning up here as well, but we knew how to contain it and prevent it from spreading.”

Mishani’s plot smoothly unfolds into a fairly complicated story that he tells in a pleasingly complicated way, shifting narrative viewpoints and unsettling the reader’s certainties at regular – maybe too regular – intervals.

It would all make for entertaining reading, had not living history overtaken it. In the summer of 2014 all-out war erupted between Israel and the Hamas militants of Gaza, and in the last month rocket-fire has been heard in the skies of Tel Aviv, and Israeli tanks have begun rolling into the Strip.

This presents an almost unbearable strain on the essentially carefree pattern of the standard murder mystery. If you set a whodunit at Agincourt, 1415, in the week before St. Crispin’s Day, you’d have to work a good deal harder than A Possibility of Violence works or guesses it needs to. It’s an unfair confluence, and it puts this otherwise-worthy book under a shadow that makes the whole of its proceedings feel like a begged question. It would be very, very nice to go back to being able to read innocently a police procedural set in Israel.