The fictional alter ego for famed lawyer Dershowitz (The Case for Moral Clarity, 2009, etc.) takes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this busy, sometimes preposterous thriller.
The third novel starring Dershowitz-like defense attorney Abe Ringel opens with a jaw-dropping terrorist act: The U.S. president, Israeli prime minister and Hamas leader are all killed by a bomb at a public ceremony intended to commemorate the creation of a Palestinian state. With any hope of Middle East peace literally blown apart, Abe is understandably anxious about his daughter, Emma, who’s moved from Boston to Jerusalem to work for a human-rights group. His worries are quickly justified: Not long after her arrival, she’s kidnapped by pro-Palestinian Marxists led by a man whose brother, Faisal, is being held on suspicion of planting the bomb. To save his daughter from execution, Abe must successfully defend Faisal in an Israeli court without letting on that he’s being blackmailed. The novel’s courtroom scenes give Dershowitz an opportunity to wax legalistic on the differences between the American and Israeli judicial process, and there are occasional glimpses into forensics labs, terrorist safe houses and interrogation rooms. But the author’s interests are more broadly sociological: He wants to make clear how difficult it is to detect true intentions among the region’s Jews, Muslims, Communists and Christians. (Double-crosses are abundant.) The author’s style is clean and forceful, built on tight, clipped paragraphs, but his handling of the broad cast of characters isn’t always graceful; a sudden appearance of a key bit of evidence seems overly convenient, and a serious predicament for Emma is explained away with little drama. Though the novel opens with thoughtful considerations of the Middle East conflict that shed light on why it’s so intractable, Dershowitz is ultimately compelled to keep the story moving, which leads to a climax that not only feels slightly cartoonish but sidesteps addressing the divide between Israelis and Palestinians. Chapters that delve into family back stories are mainly distracting, and a thin romantic subplot only proves that love stories aren’t the author’s bailiwick.
A solid display of Dershowitz’s legal chops, if not always his narrative ones.