About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

It is Hard to Write Crime Fiction Set in Israel

After reading Lineup by Liad Shoham, a review of which is my last post, I looked for some information on the author and came across a fascinating article he wrote for The Times of Israel late last year titled “It’s not easy being a crime novelist in Israel”.

Let’s start with the fact that Israel is a very small place. An American writer can take his hero from New York and lead him all the way to California, where he can create a new identity for himself. Where can I take mine? To Afula? That’s less than 30 miles from Tel Aviv. And let’s say I take him to Eliat, the furthest place in Israel, so what? He’d still be discovered

In Saskatchewan the population is limited but we are so spread out and there are our neighbouring provinces and the United States so that characters can range far and wide.

He then says:

That’s because Israelis love to play a game where they ask one another “Where are you from?” and the start with the “do you know so and so?” My poor protagonist, who thought he would be incognito, would be exposed in five minutes – not be sophisticated and seasoned police detectives but by the third floor neighbours.
It is a universal game. All of us have had small world experiences where someone we meet knows someone we would never have anticipated. Still it sounds like Israelis take the game to a different level.

Shoham continues that Israeli readers would not believe in brilliant police officers citing a famous Israeli joke that police work in pairs as “there needs to be one who can read and another that can write”.

He says there has never been a real life serial killer since Israel came into existence in 1947.

Shoham states:

I am filled with envy every time I read books in which the author did not dedicate whole chapters to what the main characters’ families think. In Israel, the family has such an important role that it is difficult to see how credible characters can be created without getting into the details and about all their relatives.

He goes on that Israeli apartment buildings lack basements and attics in which to conceal evidence and bodies.

Lest you think Shoham's observations are unique to him I am writing another Israeli mystery, The Missing File by D.A. Mishani, where early in the book the sleuth, detective Avraham Avraham explains why "there are no detective novels in Hebrew" such as written by Agatha Christie or Stieg Larsson:

            Because we don't have crimes like that. We don't have serial
            killers; we don't have kidnappings; and there aren't many
            rapists out there attacking women on the streets. Here, when
            a crime is committed, it's usually the neighbour, the uncle,
            the grandfather, and there's no need for a complex
            investigation to find the criminal and clear up the mystery.
            There's simply no mystery here. The explanation is always
            the simplest. 
In spite of all the problems Shoham concludes that crime fiction is “blooming” in Israel because “it provides escapism for living in the region and an outlet for a tense people”.

He ends with a story that made me laugh out loud on sex scenes he has written:
            After writing my third book, I asked my mother how she  
            was dealing with the licentiousness.
            “I don’t read it and just skip forward,” she said.
            “How do you know how much to skip?” I pressed on,
            She replied, “What do you think you father is for?”
What more need be said.


  1. There was an Eastern European joke similarly about policemen going round in 3s: one to read, one to write, and one to keep an eye on the 2 intellectuals.
    That was a really fascinating topic Bill, I'd never have thought of crime fiction in different countries in quite that way - you think of different police and legal setups of course, but those family perceptions are very interesting.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I wonder if many authors find it is harder to write a mystery set in their own country than placing the mystery in another country.

  2. Bill - What an interesting post! Thank you. It's a good reminder that in order to make a novel or series credible, you have to understand the culture well. I hadn't heard that joke about Israeli police before, but it's reflective (to me anyway) of the low regard that a lot of cultures have for the cops. Thanks for sharing these insights.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am grateful in Canada we have police forces that are effective and honest.

  3. A small population and everyone knowing everyone else hasn't prevented Iceland from becoming a player in crime fiction circles so I'm sure the Israeli writers can use a combination of poetic licence and their culture's unique aspects to develop their own style. I hope so anyway as Israel is one of my favourite places in the world and I like reading about places I know and enjoy

  4. Bernadette: Thanks for the comment. Excellent reminder of Iceland which has far fewer people. I did not realize Israel was one of your favourite places in the world. If you would like so share why it is a favourite place I would interested in hearing the reasons.

  5. There's a few reasons why I'm so fond of Israel Bill. I was fascinated with it before I ever went there - the idea of such a "new" country grabbed my teenage imagination when we had to study its modern formation in school. But when I did visit (I've been twice) I absolutely fell in love with the place and the people - if I put aside the elephant in the room for a moment (difficult I know when discussing anywhere in the Middle East) the place is a blast - not only is it stuffed to the brim with fascinating history and artefacts and places to visit but the people are...I don't know what the word is....amazingly practical? inspiringly unaffected? People go about their business in a way that we in Australia seem to have lost the capacity to do. On my first visit I got there by boat via Cyprus the day their Prime Minister was shot - only a few hours after the incident, before they had the culprit in custody when everyone thought it was probably a Palestinian or whatever. If that had been Australia the security would have been a nightmare - there'd have been bureaucratic madness and hours-long delays if they'd even let us in at all. Instead there was about a half-hour delay and a few more than usual customs/security officers checking those incoming and in fact we didn't know anything odd had happened until we got out of the airport and met our friends. It's just one example of the sort of attitude I saw a lot of and admire. Also just about everyone is well-informed about news and events (and not just sport and who's winning the reality tv show of the moment) and there are intelligent public discussions of important issues (unlike here where it's all shock jocks and pandering to the lowest common denominator). I'm not naïve and I don't support everything the Israeli government does or has done but I don't support lots of things my own government has done so I try to separate that layer of stuff from how I respond to places and my trips to Israel (for a total of about 8 weeks) have both been terrific.

    I'll stop my rambling now :)

  6. Bernadette: Thanks for the ramble. I hope you will ramble in future comments. I appreciated reading your thoughts. You are a keen observer. I have never been to Israel. I am not sure if I will make it there but you have made it more likely we will visit the country.