An Israeli immigrant, coding for the FBI’s Cyber Crime Unit, hopes to bring her adopted sisters to America but winds up in the midst of a cyberwar in this thriller.
Years ago, the U.S. government enlisted Zoe Mousa to migrate a PC–based system to a MAC operation. The Israeli turned out to have a turbulent family history: after Islamic extremists murdered her parents when she was 12, Zoe was raised in the Delkash household in Iran. She believes her work with the FBI will get her U.S. citizenship, giving her the right to move her sisters Sarah and Jamileh from Noshahr to America. Zoe, however, lives in Claremont Village, California, not quite the “sleepy college town” it appears to be. For starters, it’s full of spies, and Zoe barely survives when armed Russians, hunting the programmer who discovered their code, storm Automated Data Processing, where she’s on assignment. She’s surrounded by people with secrets, from Frank Darlington, hired by Dean Fritz Rolfe to conduct illegal electronic surveillance on theology professor Saul Newman, to Saul himself, whose affection for Zoe may be reciprocated. As a cyberwar looms on the horizon, Zoe’s detection code that attacks servers infected with a “spy virus” makes her a hot commodity among agencies like Homeland Security. It also puts her in danger with America’s enemies. Benzehabe (Semitic Tales: Accidental Hebrew for Christians, 2016, etc.) offers a multigenre tale, with espionage, romance, and historical references, including Edward Snowden, playing significant parts in the story. There are definite trademarks of a spy novel: one character is either a villain or an ally undercover, and Zoe is unmistakably in danger by the final act. But the most resounding moments are Zoe’s attempts at adapting, and not just in her new role as an apparent spy. As a Jewish woman raised by Muslims in Iran, she stands out whether or not she’s donning Muslim attire; people express surprise when she isn’t wearing her headscarf, or comment on her burka, which is actually a chador. There’s comic relief, meanwhile, in Zoe’s imperfect English, with her occasional slips genuinely funny (calling Saul a genital instead of a gentile); Benzehabe thankfully keeps them in moderation.
Riveting, even as the protagonist struggles more with losing her personal identity than espionage.