In Hiller’s (Sabra Zoo, 2010) second thriller, Michel Khoury is a skilled linguist, a supposed student at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, and a PLO operative controlled by the mysterious Abu Leila.
Khoury is a Lebanese Christian, a survivor of a horrific massacre in a Beirut refugee camp. Discovered by Leila, a PLO mastermind rumored to be connected to Arafat, Michel has been groomed since his orphaned teenage years for a purpose never revealed to him. He’s learned multiple languages and was schooled in spy craft in Gorbachev’s Moscow. Now, Abu Leila has assigned Michel to London, where he runs clandestine errands and acts as Leila’s agent. With no other contact within the PLO, Khoury is confused but loyal when he is tasked to find a site for a meeting between Palestinians and Israelis who are working secretly for a single-state solution to Middle Eastern turmoil, a gathering sure to draw assassins from all quarters. In a life driven by deceit, Khoury’s motives, decisions and reactions can be traced to the massacre that cost him his family. Khoury’s initial human contact is the superbly written Abu Leila, but Hiller opens the narrative by introducing Helen, a beautiful and free-spirited English anthropology doctoral candidate. A romance begins, one filled with the same ambiguity that mirrors Michel’s life as an operative. But then Michel’s world is shattered when Abu is assassinated in Berlin shortly before the clandestine conference. That sends Khoury, accompanied by Helen, into the wilds of Scotland, pursued by Abu’s killers. Moving from Lebanon to Cyprus to Berlin to Moscow and then to London, a city that Hiller knows and makes central to the story, the author writes believably of the world of undercover spies, both about the practicalities—picking locks, coding messages, using false identities—and the atmosphere of constant paranoia, continual double-dealing and amorality.
An entertainingly complex, quick-moving psychological thriller.