For D.A. Mishani's Hero, Police Work Is a Dull Gig

Debut Israeli Novel Falls Short of High Expectations

Literary Debut: D.A. Mishani’s first novel is about a detective in Israel.
Yanai Yechieli
Literary Debut: D.A. Mishani’s first novel is about a detective in Israel.

By Curt Schleier

Published April 08, 2013, issue of April 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

● The Missing File
By D.A. Mishani Translated from the Hebrew by Steven Cohen
Harper, 304 pages, $25.99

According to his author bio, D.A. Mishani (those are his initials, not his job title) is an editor of Israeli fiction and crime literature at an Israeli publishing company. He is also “a literary scholar specializing in the history of detective literature.”

That sets the bar pretty high for “The Missing File,” his debut novel. Unfortunately, Mishani doesn’t clear the bar; in fact, he barely manages the limbo.

Detective Avraham Avraham responds dismissively when Hannah Sharabi reports that her son, Ofer is missing, asking if she knows “why there are no crime novels in Hebrew.” When she says she doesn’t, Avraham claims it’s “because we don’t have crimes… we don’t have serial killers; we don’t have kidnappings; and there aren’t many rapists attacking women on the streets.”

The question of why there are so few crime novels in Israel is one the detective asks repeatedly. Being a cop in the Tel Aviv suburbs apparently is a boring job. Avraham sends Hannah home with the assurance that her son will likely return on his own. But of course he doesn’t, and the investigation that follows is at the heart of this book.

But it is a flawed investigation, and Avraham is a flawed protagonist. He is hapless, insecure and so friendless that he spends his birthday alone. He loses control of his own investigation — a colleague and rival secures the confession — and certainly does not seem to be the most likely protagonist for what is projected to be a series of mysteries.

One can make a case for an anti-hero detective, but Avraham’s lack of endearing qualities is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg that left me cold. Mishani tries to misdirect the reader, but little is subtle about his attempted sleight of hand. Spoiler alert: Mishani works very hard to make it appear as though a neighbor, high school English teacher Ze’ev, is responsible for the disappearance.

We meet him at the beginning of the second chapter, when he comes home from school and already “knows why the police cars are there.” How could he know unless he is involved? Why is he so eager to help in the investigation, to be interviewed by the lead detective? Why does he call the police from a public phone and give false information about sighting the missing boy’s body? Why does he write letters to the missing boy’s parents claiming to be their son, and leave them in their mailbox?

He’d tutored the boy, but Ofer abruptly quit working with him. Was there a sexual problem? Is he a psycho who will match wits with the lead detective? Hardly. The explanation, which comes toward the end of the book, is that Ze’ev, a would-be novelist, wanted to write from the perspective of the victim. This was all research.

This implausible explanation made me feel foolish for buying into this (and I confess I did) in the first place. There are other contrivances, so when someone does finally confess to the crime, the confession seems disconnected from anything we have learned previously.

The cops (not Avraham) wring a confession out of Ofer’s father, Raphael, but Avraham ultimately learns that the confession makes no sense. So, does he correct the errors? The book ends, “To be continued.”

Really? A cliffhanger at the end of a book? Will Avraham wake up and discover that it was all a dream? I hope I will.

Curt Schleier is a freelance writer and critic who teaches business writing to corporate executives.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.