Twenty-eight little hours – barely more than a day, but wow what a day! From 10:40am on an April Monday morning to 2:40pm on the Tuesday afternoon we step into a maelstrom of non-stop action. A Long Night in Paris is one of the most enjoyable action spy thrillers I’ve read in a long time. Exciting and intriguing, a real page turner that grips instantly and stays true and fast to the end, a novel that has cut to the chase from page one. But if it was just action it wouldn’t hold my interest for 400 pages and it does, this is also a novel that has real depth.
There is a clutch of Israeli spy writers who are highly sceptical of the motives of the state and the security services, now we can add Dov Alfon to that list. This striking debut plays on the internecine disputes between the various branches of Israeli security and the grab for power and influence that is ever present. By design, blind ambition and/or rivalry, a mission of crucial importance to the Israeli state could go sideways as the spies spy on the spies. Behind the plentiful action is a devious plot to steal state secrets that has implications for the wider world – including the Americans and the Russians. Working as a team, even though they have never met and they are thousands of miles apart, Zeev Abadi and Oriana Talmor have to figure out why an Israeli businessman with no connections to the security services was kidnapped at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It doesn’t take Abadi long to figure out what happened to him.
Abadi is the new head of 8200, a specialist intelligence unit, his predecessor was forced into retirement the day before, only Abadi is in Paris when appointed. His deputy, Oriana Talmor, is covering back in Israel. 8200 section is coveted by the Shabak, the internal security service and could be subsumed if Abadi and Talmor get things wrong. In addition Abadi has made an enemy of the Tzahal’s head of intelligence, General Rotelmann (the Israeli Defence Force). It’s a subtle and intricate plot lightly told and full credit has to go to Daniella Zamir for a translation that maintains the energy of the story telling and the intelligence of the plot. A dark tale of espionage and murder, with more than a touch of humour, Alfon has a beautifully cynical eye on the smoke and mirror world of spies. As the French police and the Israeli security services come up against deadly Chinese assassins, and an assortment of criminals and lowlifes they have no idea why a second Israeli citizen is in danger and there’s little time to figure it out as the bodies keep dropping on the Paris streets.
Like all really good spy stories, A Long Night in Paris has a strong emotional and intellectual core. Alfon cleverly conveys the motivations of the characters inhabiting this treacherous world and gives a sense of the political and security climate while retaining the breakneck pace. Why does Yaniv Meidan, an apparently ordinary Israeli businessman, go missing from Charles de Gaulle Airport? There could be a simple explanation, a beautiful blonde enticed him away from his colleagues, they saw him leave voluntarily. The problem is Meidan isn’t seen on any surveillance leaving the airport. He and the mysterious blonde, wearing a red hotel greeter’s uniform, appear to have vanished from a lift that should have taken them to the car park. Commissaire Jules Léger of the Police Judiciaire is temporarily in charge of the airport and is sufficiently disturbed by the disappearance to mount an investigation, which the Israelis quickly muscle in on. Léger recognises the official known as Chico from the embassy but the other man, Colonel Zeev Abadi has just flown in (are the two arrivals connected?). The witnesses aren’t of much help, but one did notice the lift went up to a part of the airport being renovated, it shouldn’t be possible to access that floor. The kidnapping is flagged back in Israel where Oriana Talmor is defending the 8200 at the full security briefing with the Chief of Military Intelligence, Aluf Rotelmann and the heads of departments; navy, air, research et al. It’s clear that some of these men don’t like this woman temporarily in charge of Section 8200, but she is more than capable of taking care of herself. When they try to seduce her into betraying Abadi she turns them down flat. From Israel, she is going to do all she can to find out why the old boss was ousted and how it is all connected to the Paris incident. As certain parties in Paris seek to side-line Commissaire Léger he realises he needs to stick close to Abadi if he is to find any answers about what is going on and the clock is ticking…
The relationship between Abadi, enigmatic and in control but with a darker side, and Talmor, hot headed, determined and loyal, is brilliantly realised. The pair working in tandem and in secret to discover the links between what happened at a secret military instillation in the Negev desert and the events in Paris is one of the master strokes of the layered plot. Having created such an interesting pair I hope we hear a lot more from these two in the future.
Alfon has caught the zeitgeist, the paranoia and the double dealing of the secret world perfectly. This feels like an insight into Israel and the security mentality. The novel is bolstered by references/thinly disguised attacks on the Israeli PM, his wife, their expenditure accounts and the billionaire backers behind the scenes. All chillingly real and a reflection of the real concerns over corruption in Israel. The plot is up to the minute and plausible. Of course, you can enjoy this thriller for its action but I think it will strike home on a more intellectual level as you absorb the layers of intrigue that are the undercurrent to the violence. This is an accomplished and assured debut, I hope we hear more from Alfon soon. Dov Alfon is a former intelligence officer and has worked in newspapers and publishing. This wonderfully creative spy story is begging for a follow up…
Paul Burke 5/4
A Long Night in Paris by Dov Alfon
MacLehose Press 9780857058799 hbk Jan 2019