To Kill a Shadow - Nathan Ronen

Ostensibly, what we have here is an espionage thriller from the point of view of a Mossad operative, juggling intelligence operations, internal politics, revenge, and a messy personal life. I liked that idea, I like the concept, and think I could've liked this book if that's what it delivered. Instead we get a collection of half-baked ideas, story snippets scattered around with an attempt made to squish them into a coherent whole.


Arik Bar Nathan is a Mossad agent -- and apparently can't tell anyone in his family that. His marriage and relationships with his son and daughter have been the major casualties of that. Not that his relationship with his younger sister and mother have fared all that well, either. Events conspire to get him to realize just how badly he's messed things up, and some Oprah-level advice enabled him to start the process of rebuilding things with his kids. This is quite possibly the most successful part of the book.


The heads of Israeli Intelligence (and those close to them) and the Prime Minister all apparently have the emotional maturity of middle-school girls -- they fly off the handle for no reason, have the shortest fuses you can imagine, yell and scream at the drop of a hat, and play petty political games dealing with pettier personal gripes. If people were this mercurial in the real world, the Middle East would be in worse shape than it is. Somehow, these characters are able to pull off a couple of major operations without major loss of life and stability.


There are a few other storylines, too. Like a love story that defies logic, and can only work because this super-spy is super-gullible when it comes to this woman, and because the reader is willing to suspend every once of disbelief.


There is no sense of urgency to anything, really. Well, I take that back -- if there's an event, say, Arik's mother having a medical crisis, or someone being shot -- there's a lot of hustle and bustle surrounding that. But as soon as the immediate situation is addressed, the issue is put on the back burner and ignored. I understand that a lot of intelligence operations are about timing, patience, waiting for dots to be connected and opportunities to arise. But can you tell as story about that without seeming to ignore the issues while waiting for opportunities? Absolutely. If you know there's an assassin in a small country targeting one man, you should maybe, I don't know...hunt for him. Especially if the target is supposed to be a cracker-jack spy.


There is a subplot that shows up for one chapter centering on a secondary character and then disappear -- other than offering a distraction from the story, there's no purpose for its inclusion. Even that secondary character acts pretty differently in this chapter than he does throughout the novel.


Most of the characters are not much more than sketches -- there's no life to them. They're almost well-developed, a few are almost complex -- but Ronen leaves them at almost. Those characters at the beginning of NCIS or Bones that find the dead bodies to kick off episodes are better drawn than just about all of these.*


I do think that Ronen had a bunch of cool things running around in his head -- some to do with espionage, some to do with a spy putting his personal life back together, some to do with descendants of the Holocaust finding peace -- but he didn't know how to execute them in a narrative. I couldn't connect with anyone or any story, but I really wanted to. I honestly didn't know what I was going to say about this book when I started writing this post -- I've been trying to come up with a reason to recommend this one, but I can't.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion -- it clearly didn't impact things.


* That's not a huge insult, really. They pack a lot of character into those couple of minutes.