The Missing File, by D.A. Mishani, HarperCollins, 290 pages, $25.99
Reviewed by DR. MORTON I. TEICHER
In the days after Israel was founded in 1948, mysteries and crime fiction were considered to be rather flimsy and petty — particularly in a society that was busy putting together its Zionist ideology with values that would contribute to solidifying the status of a new state.
Some American and British writers were translated into Hebrew, but crime fiction was considered appropriate only for youngsters and did not appeal to readers of serious Hebrew literature.
This situation changed in the 1980s as the state matured and mysteries began to appear. For the most part, they were not translated into English. An exception was Batya Gur, several of whose excellent detective stories appeared in English before she died at the age of 57.
D.A. Mishani is editor of fiction at Keter Books, an Israeli publishing house, and a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature. He has decided that the best way to spread recognition of Israeli crime fiction is to write novels himself, and to make sure that they are translated into English and other languages.
The Missing File is the first result of Mishani’s decision and he sees it as launching a literary crime series that will have international appeal. Indeed, his detective, Avraham Avraham, might be a member of the police force anywhere even though he serves in Holon, a Tel Aviv suburb. And the crime, which begins with a mother reporting the disappearance of her 16-year-old son, resembles a situation brought to police departments all over the world.
However, things become more complicated when an anonymous caller tells the police that the boy’s body can be found on the sand dunes behind a particular building. The search is fruitless and Avraham reviews what he was told about the boy’s family: he has a 14-year-old sister and a five-year-old brother; their father is a seaman working on a cargo ship heading for Trieste.
The investigation proceeds, becoming more perplexing as information comes in from neighbors in the apartment house where the boy and his family live, as well as from others who knew him. Several police officers become involved, especially when Avraham decides to proceed with his scheduled week in Brussels as part of an exchange program.
Eventually, there is a plausible solution to the problem of the boy’s disappearance but, as the book ends, doubt is raised about this result and the intriguing final words are “To Be Continued…”
This well-written mystery truly demonstrates that this genre has come of age in Israel. We await with eager anticipation Mishani’s further proof that Israel no longer dismisses detective stories but rather has come to accept them as worthy entertainment for all readers.
Dr. Morton I. Teicher is the founding dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University and dean emeritus of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
(American Jewish World, 5.24.13)