How's this for instant gratification? Seconds after Alex KertÇsz, junior lecturer at the University of Jerusalem's microbiology lab, mutters "Go to hell!" to his absent senior colleague, Prof. Ilan Falk, Ilan is blown up by his own cigar, which ignites the gas that's been leaking into his neighboring lab. And Alex, impatient with Ilan for muscling in on his research project and then dilly-dallying over publishing the results, isn't the only person who wished Ilan dead. There's Ilan's son Oded, whose father had resolved a little quarrel over the family car Oded had taken without permission by reporting it stolen. There's Prof. Elisha Tal, the biochemist Ilan had accused of faking the results that won him a prize. Most intriguingly, there's Ilan's research assistant Shosh, who wished he'd leave the gas on someday and light it up with one of his stinky cigars, and then dreamed his death the night before he died. So whodunit? That's a question that has to take a backseat to a parade of characters too faceless to be called suspects, several fervently described biochemical experiments and reports, and "strikingly handsome" Alex's constant fretting over the artist wife who keeps flirting with him even though she no longer loves him, and half a dozen other women who flirt with him for reasons of their own. A first novel whose people and prose alike are too affectless for moral outrage or emotional engagement—leaving only the well-drawn Jerusalem backdrops as a plus.
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