Wednesday, July 31st, 2013...2:42 pm

Israel Diary 2013: Writing crime novels

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Dror Mishani has written two novels featuring Det. Avraham Avraham of the Holon police

By MORDECAI SPECKTOR

Being from Minnesota, proximity to the sea has always been exciting for me. In Tel Aviv, thanks to friends with Dan Hotels Israel, I was ensconced in an executive sea view room at the Dan Tel Aviv Hotel in late June. My comfy room on the second floor had many amenities, but the star of the show, so to speak, was a large window that swung open and afforded a dazzling view of the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel is just across the street from beautiful Frishman Beach, and playing in the surf is pure fun.

On my last day in Israel, I finally padded over to the beach, where six-foot waves were breaking. There were a few surfers, but most of the folks were just jumping into the waves and going for the ride. At one point I noticed an Israeli man of about my age nearby. He was scanning the water and motioned that he had lost his glasses. The water was quite shallow 200 feet from shore, but it’s a large sea. Then, just a minute or two later, I felt something with my foot. I reached down and retrieved a pair of glasses. Looking around, I saw the man who lost his glasses walking out of the water. I called to him and handed over his specs. He was very grateful for my discovery.

Israel Diary 2013

Back to the Dan Tel Aviv, the staff sort of rolled out the red carpet, figuratively speaking. At check-in, I was greeted by a guest relations person and shown to my room by another friendly staffer. There were fruit and chocolates on a coffee table in the little seating area of the room. Also, I found a bottle of Dan Hotels red wine, two glasses and a corkscrew, next to a letter of welcome from the hotel manager.

At the hotel I also had access to the King David Crown Lounge, which featured a tasty buffet and beverages. There was water, juice, wine and whiskey — but no beer. And you’re allowed to bring a guest. One night I invited two guests — Ami Kaufman and Dahlia Scheindlin, writers with +972 Magazine, a left-wing online news and commentary site in English. There is supposed to be a 60 shekel charge for a second guest in the executive lounge, but the woman at the desk waived the fee. As the lounge was closing that night, at 11 p.m., Ami and Dahlia pointed out the celebrity at a nearby table: Dr. Ruth Westheimer (7-5-13 AJW). It’s always something in Israel.

Dror Mishani: I like the realistic, psychological, police procedural. This is my genre. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

Dror Mishani: I like the realistic, psychological, police procedural. This is my genre. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

On my Friday in Tel Aviv, I met Dror Mishani at the Dan Tel Aviv, and we had a great conversation about his book, The Missing File (HarperCollins), which was reviewed by Morton Teicher in the May 24 edition of the Jewish World. The novel features police detective Avraham Avraham, with the police force in Holon, a nondescript Tel Aviv suburb. It’s a melancholy case of a missing teenager, with an ambiguous resolution. In any case, Mishani is a talented writer, and I recommend The Missing File, whether or not you’re a fan of detective fiction.

Mishani, who writes under the name D.A. Mishani, was a book editor for Keter Books, a major Israeli publishing house, until the day before our interview. He edited Sayed Kashua’s most recent novel, Second Person Singular (see Blue Box), and the last Amos Oz story collection, Bein Chaverim (Among Friends), which is not available yet in an English language edition.

Regarding the Oz stories, Mishani said, “It’s a wonderful collection of short stories. It’s similar to [the previous Oz story collection] Scenes from Village Life, in the sense that it takes place in one kibbutz, it’s an imaginary kibbutz, with eight short stories,” featuring eight different members of the kibbutz.

Prior to his five years with Keter Books, Mishani worked for seven years as the editor of the Haaretz literary supplement. He also has translated crime fiction, and teaches a course on the history of detective fiction at Tel Aviv University.

Among his personal favorite writers in the crime genre are Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. During our discussion of detective fiction, Mishani mentioned his work has been influenced more by a number of European writers, including Georges Simenon (Belgium), Henning Mankell (Sweden) and Andrea Camilleri (Italy). He also lauded the 87th Precinct series of books by American writer Ed McBain (who is also known as Evan Hunter, author of the 1954 novel The Blackboard Jungle).

Asked about Walter Mosley, the popular African-American and Jewish author of the Easy Rawlins novels, Mishani replied that he enjoys reading the books, but is less influenced by the “hard-boiled writers — what they call the noir writing… I like the realistic, psychological, police procedural, I would say. This is my genre.”

And readers might be interested to know that, according to the Israeli scholar of crime fiction, the inventor of this genre is Edgar Allen Poe. “There would be no detectives without him,” said Mishani, regarding Poe’s stories featuring detective C. Auguste Dupin, who first appeared in The Murders in the Rue Morgue, in 1841.

You live and you learn.

While Americans know that Chandler is as good a writer as anyone, Israelis don’t accord the same cachet to those toiling in the detective fiction genre, according to Mishani. In this vein, he also mentions Michael Chabon, an acclaimed novelist who experimented with the detective genre in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a wonderful book set in a fictional Jewish colony in the Aleutian Islands, after the experiment of the modern State of Israel failed.

So, Mishani is embarked on a new career as a writer of detective novels.

“Yesterday, I just told my editor-in-chief that I’m too busy with my writing… and I can’t work anymore,” he explained.

“The second novel in the [detective Avraham Avraham] series was just published in Israel, and it got excellent reviews and it’s selling well,” he commented. “I really want to start the third one; and the thought of being an editor for the next year or two, instead of writing, was just terrible.”

Mishani’s second Avi Avraham novel, A Possibility of Violence, will come out in an American edition in April 2014.

A third detective Avraham novel is forming in the writer’s mind — he hasn’t begun writing, however.

How many books will comprise this series?

“Hopefully, a lot,” Mishani replied. “I really enjoy it. I think I found my thing.”

***

In the way of disclosure, support for the AJW’s 2013 Israel reporting expedition was provided by Dan Hotels Israel.

(American Jewish World, 8.2.13)

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