When sixteen-year-old Ofer Sharabi fails to return home from school one afternoon, his mother dutifully reports the situation to the local police. Unfortunately, Detective Avraham (Avi) Avraham is less than motivated to begin searching for the young man.
As he explains to the distraught mother, their Israeli town of Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, doesn’t “have serial killers; we don’t have kidnappings; and there aren’t many rapists out there attacking women on the streets.” Indeed, “there is very little chance that anything has happened to your son.” And with a disinterested and somewhat condescending figurative pat on the head, he sends her home with the reassurance the boy has merely cut school and will be home before night’s end.
Of course, the boy doesn’t return. And by the time Avraham officially opens a file on the case the following day he is already seemingly hopelessly behind the eight ball on the investigation, a position from which he spends the majority of the remainder of the story.
The Missing File, the debut from and first in a proposed series by author D. A. Mishani, is not the type of mystery American readers are accustomed to reading. As such it is very much an acquired taste, one some readers may not be patient enough to see if it suits their palate. Unlike the lead in the typical American–or even British or Nordic–detective novel, Avi Avraham is not a very dynamic protagonist. For starters, he’s not all that great at his job. There’s no doubt his inability to solve the case in a timely manner causes Avraham significant guilt and frustration, but that’s as much a result of his own incompetence as it is any real challenge presented by the evidence.
Beyond just not being very sharp as a detective, however, Avraham also has a rather vanilla personality, with nary a quirk or vice run amok in sight. And while you may think that would make for a welcome change from every hard-drinking, profanity spewing, jazz loving, cat owning, thrice divorced, closet S&M freak detective out there, it turns out that dull is, well, dull. It’s not that I disliked Avraham, but neither did his character ever give me anything to grab onto and root for either.
Indeed, the most interesting character in the book in one of Ofer’s neighbors, a high school teacher named Ze’ev Avni who lives in the same building and spent several months giving Ofer private instruction in English. From the start, Ze’ev seems to take an unhealthy interest in Ofer’s disappearance and the resulting investigation, and Mishani’s presentation of the book in alternating chapters told from Avraham’s and Ze’ev’s perspectives allows the reader a very uncomfortable glimpse into Ze’ev’s mind–is the man truly dangerous, or merely a bit off his rocker? There’s no question at least one of the two shoes fits…but which?
After a very slow moving first three quarters, The Missing File does pick up a bit toward the end, though it wouldn’t be accurate to say the pace ever reaches that of a page-turner, with events even at the height of the climax still coming off somewhat stilted and sterile. Of course, as with any book translated from a different language, The Missing File was originally written in Hebrew, there is the very real possibility that the prose flows much more smoothly in the original, and that something has simply gotten lost in translation.
I had hoped that the very unique setting of Israel would in itself be a draw, but the setting is actually never fully exploited–at least not in a way that makes it ‘pop’ for those looking for something different from their traditional American and British detective fare. Don’t get me wrong, The Missing File is a well-written book, unfortunately for my reading tastes there was just never quite enough of a spark to make The Missing File really catch fire.
The Missing File is available from Harper (ISBN: 978-0062195371).
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