In the first installment of a political thriller series, Nehamen (Wrapped: The First Ever Musical Novel, 2013) introduces an author destined to uncover a terror plot.
Zach Miller, 32, is a Los Angeles–based writer seeking inspiration for his next novel. A phone call from a friend sends him on a strange odyssey to meet Jivin, a young mystic, on a New Mexico reservation. Zach believes Jivin’s prophecy that he can save millions of lives if he flies to Israel right away. Zach’s Palestinian seatmate, Amir, will serve as his host in the region; with his sister, Bahlya, Amir will also attemptto indoctrinate Zach into Hamas-influenced philosophy. As Zach (rather predictably) falls in love with Bahlya and learns of an imminent 9/11 anniversary attack, he struggles to distinguish truth from propaganda—and to decide whom he can trust with his findings. His one-man investigation leads to brutal physical and mental tortureand only delayshis mission to persuade American and Israeli officials of the threat. Nehamen maintains the thriller’s pace through believable dialogue, short paragraphs, chapter-ending cliffhangers and by weaving in relevant background information on the Arab-Israeli conflict, though that occasionally comes via tedious monologues. Similar to those terrorist-themed TV dramas like 24 or Homeland, the prison torture scenes are especially convincing and lifelike. Zach’s snappy narration—“I’m excited! I’m also a damn fool”—enlivens the story, but his metaphors can sometimes appear infantile, as in “like a baby with a booboo” or “my brain felt like it had been stuffed with stale Cheerios.” Moreover, detailing his mother’s and lawyer’s efforts to secure his prison release requires Zach to adopt third-person omniscience—a seemingly unsophisticated method of disclosing what the first-person perspective can’t reveal. Far-fetched coincidences as well as a madcap biblical ploy to foil the terrorists lend this overlong novel an air of implausibility. The spiritual aura introduced in the first chapter via Jivin carries through Zach’s post-traumatic hallucinations, yet this supernatural element—along with the persistent, inapposite space travel imagery (“Thousands, millions of new stars were being born, new suns sauntering on boardwalks of stellar oceans of emptiness, parading in front of cousins, uncles, and aunts trillions of years of age”)—feels curiously out of place amid the realistic intrigue.
Mysticism confuses this otherwise riveting, ripped-from-the headlines suspense novel.