Harper, 1993, 578 pages, C$6.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-06-100894-X
Stay away from this book. I mean it.
You most probably read thrillers for fun. To pass time on the bus. To relax on the beach. To escape reality to a more interesting world where government are either steadfastly protecting our freedom or working hard at enslaving us.
So you naturally want a well-paced story, protagonists you can root for, an original premise and a kicking conclusion that leaves everyone happy and the bad guys punished.
I’m telling you: avoid Alan Gold’s The Jericho Files.
It does start promisingly. At a peace conference where an agreement is about to be signed between Israelis and Arabs, the Prime Minister of Israel gets up, insults the whole crowd, does everything short of a snappy Nazi salute and plunges the entire proceedings in chaos. There’s no such thing as a good mystery to get the ball rolling on a novel, and this is a fascinating one.
Then we’re inevitably introduced to our two protagonists. Miriam Davis is a tough but adorable Jewish Australian lawyer. She’s dating Paul Sinclair, a journalist. They’re a cute couple, even though they have a few problems due to religious differences. To patch things up, they visit her grandfather, who tells them a story about the Israeli Prime Minister’s past. Photographic proof in hand, he maintains that this particular Prime Minster -back in Pre-WW2 Poland- was a die-hard communist who helped to eradicate entire Jewish villages. Egawd! Could he be right?
Well, of course he is. We’re privy to the conspiracies of an old man, who masterminds a plot for complete Russian world domination! Miriam’s grandfather is killed, Paul’s apartment is ransacked, and before long, our two intrepid investigators are on a plane away from Australia, looking for answers in the old countries.
(Gold doesn’t miss an occasion to pump up Israel’s profile and generally make a fanfare out of Jewishness. That’s cool -I’m generally sympathetic to Israel-, but when constantly repeated over hundreds of pages, it can become annoying.)
Meanwhile, Israel is torn apart by martial law and agents provocateurs. Our protagonists escape from the country with death teams hot on their heels and continue on to Poland, where they confirm the grandfather’s story. But everywhere they go, their witnesses and informants are ruthlessly killed shortly after having talked.
Understand that I’m summarizing a lot, but not condensing much. Even though The Jericho Files nearly hits 600 pages, not a lot happens there. The narrative is padded with useless chatter, scenes which sap the suspense of the novel and a considerable amount of red herrings, cardboard characters, gratuitous subplots and dull moments.
Eventually, Paul and Miriam link up with powerful Russian men who might be in a position to stop the Jericho plan. They gather their forces, prepare their counterstrike…
…and are all killed. Paul and Miriam are taken deep inside a Russian forest and killed one after another by a bullet in the head. They’re then disfigured by sulphuric acid and buried in an unmarked grave.
I’m not making this up. 550+ pages for a complete failure and an unremarkable death.
Couple this awful ending with the tepid pacing, and you’ve got a recipe for the anti-thesis of everything fun, good and sacred about thrillers. It doesn’t do to kick the reader in the head after s/he’s been patient enough to slog through 550+ pages of mostly indifferent prose to see the novel resolve itself in a big fat nothing. Stay away from this book. Now that I’ve spoiled it from beginning to end, you don’t even have a reason to go through it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and deface my copy with sulphuric acid and bury it in an unmarked grave somewhere in my backyard.