Sadly, I no longer read much fiction.
When I was a kid I sat up an entire night reading The Two Towers, by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was like watching a movie in my head long before Peter Jackson did his remarkable job with those films. The next morning I implored my parents to take me to the book store to pick up The Return of the King.
And while Dark Waters is, of course, no Lord of the Rings, it did manage to transport me into reading a book like I am watching a movie mode.
As a writer and blog-owner I am often offered advance copies of all sorts of books, both fiction and non-fiction... even graphic novels concerning the overthrow of Iran in Operation Ajax under Kermit Roosevelt, if you can imagine. My typical response to the agent is to say, "Sure. Send me what you have and I will take a look and if I have anything to say about it, I will do so."
Usually, I do not.
Dark Waters, by Chris Goff, however, is great fun. As someone stewed in the ongoing misery that is the Arab-Israel conflict, reading an action-packed thriller set in Israel was a welcome change of pace.
The reason that I agreed to do this review is because it is one of the first novels in a long time that has dragged me out of my historically-minded, sociologically-minded, politically-minded head for awhile in a work of fiction very much grounded in history, sociology, and politics.
Dark Waters is the first of Goff's Raisa Jordan novels.
Raisa, or Rae, is an agent for the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service in Israel endeavoring to protect American Judge Ben Taylor and his daughter, Lucy, from Palestinian terrorists intent on retrieving vital data for their operations in a cell phone they believe is accidentally held by the Judge and his daughter. The Israeli government wants Taylor and his daughter out of Israel, where they can be better protected in the United States. But Lucy is sick and Taylor is hell-bent on getting her the alternative medical procedure that he believes she must have to save her life and that means they must stay in Tel Aviv.
When I picked up Dark Waters one of my first thoughts was that this novel was going to make Alan Dershowitz jealous. Other than his support for an Obama second term, I have nothing against Dershowitz. On the contrary, I very much admire his stalwart support for the Jewish State of Israel, as well as his works of fiction, but his thrillers set in Israel have nothing on Chris Goff.
The book is taut and includes the character of Batya Ganani, a kick-ass ninja-like female Jewish Israeli operative that reminded me of Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow (Natalia Romanova) in Marvel's Avengers franchise... until Rae Jordan takes her down hard.
Ganani of Shabak is not Natalia Romanova, but I would not want to face her in a dark alley, either.
One thing that should be noted is the book's political balance. One of the difficulties that writers have, if they wish to write fiction set in Israel, is just how sensitive people can be on the topic... particularly among those of us who happen to be Jewish pro-Israel advocates.
Is she being fair to Israel? Is she being fair to the Jews? The IDF? This is treacherous ground, politically, and it takes a balanced writer to tread that ground if she is writing a thriller of international intrigue set in Israel. In my opinion Goff did a good job... which would probably indicate to my colleagues on the other side that this is a pro-Israel novel.
Well, it is a pro-Israel novel in the sense that Israel is not castigated, but it is certainly not an anti-Palestinian one, either.
At one point, early in the book, Goff refers to some in the IDF as something akin to "a pack of wolves."
If that sounds harsh, do not worry, it is. This is not a novel that sentimentalizes the Palestinian national movement, either. Quite the contrary. Nor is Goff a big fan of Neturei Karta, but who is?
The book, ultimately, is born from Goff's personal experience taking care of her own daughter in Israel.
As Goff wrote at Israel Thrives:
When I visited Israel in 2001, the circumstances were stressful. We were there getting alternative medical therapy for our eleven year-old daughter, who at the time was extremely sick. Originally there for six weeks, we ended up staying two months. Our time there served as the catalyst for my international thriller, DARK WATERS. As my daughter began to get stronger, we explored Tel Aviv, then moved outside to visit Haifa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada, Tiberias and the Dead Sea. Venturing out took a lot of resolve. In 2001, Israel experienced over 40 suicide bombings, including a car bombing in Tiberias involving a vehicle we had parked close to when visiting the marketplace that morning. It was the first time I had ever been afraid to leave the house, go to the movies, eat at a restaurant or ride a city bus.But it was out of such experience that Dark Waters was eventually born. I will look forward to the next Raisa Jordan novel.
Michael Lumish is a blogger at the Israel Thrives blog as well as a regular contributor/blogger at Times of Israel and Jews Down Under.