Israel is again facing apocalyptic destruction and only one Mossad agent can save the day. But this time, things are a bit different.
This time, both the Mossad and its jihadist enemy are equal opportunity employers. On one side is Jodie Moore, a Palestinian sympathizer who campaigns against the oppression of the “apartheid” Israeli state. But wait, Jodie is one of the good guys. She is secretly tracking pro-Palestinian activists in Britain. Like “dry bones waiting to be quickened in the service of Israel,” Jodie is ready to be called up for active duty and serve her country at a moment’s notice.
On the other side, Masha Khanov is a Chechen woman who is doing her share to make sure that the “final siege on Israel was being set.” Masha is the daughter of the unseen, mysterious Sheikh Bayfal, who is leading the call for a holy war. To the vast majority of his followers, the Sheikh “was a phantasm, sermonizing and commanding via the samizdat of digital audio clips.”
Strip Mine by Dan Williams takes the equal opportunity notion one step further. Jodie is not your average spy, for she has Type-1 diabetes, a condition kept secret from her Mossad commanders. “She kept the illness so private that, at times, she almost forgot it existed.” Jodie has an excellent track record – she had distinguished herself during the Intifada – so a small mishap in a passport drop in London is quickly forgotten.
And there is Jodie’s handler, a talented woman who carries on with Mossad duties while pushing her infant son in a pram. “I’m still on maternity leave, sort of,” the woman informs Jodie.
Another colorful character is Max Frey, who recruited Jodie to the ranks of the Mossad, and on whom she has a secret crush. Max is an older man who accepts patients “at the psychiatric practice that he ran from his home” but doesn’t welcome the prospect of retiring from the Mossad. To Jodie, Max “was an ally, a blessed apparition in an alien crowd, a man who knew her value.”
Jodie is called upon to enter Hamas-controlled Gaza as she is the only agent capable of locating Masha and stopping the Chechen woman before she succeeds in “ending the abomination that was the State of Israel – or at least, bringing about the beginning of its end.”
The multi-dimensional characters set Strip Mine apart from other spy thrillers. The colorful descriptions of Gazans going about their daily lives on streets that smell like “old falafel” render additional authenticity to the narrative. The author clearly knows the settings where the action takes place, but one wonders whether there really is a secret passage at the back of the Cinema City mall complex leading to Mossad headquarters.
The subtitle for Strip Mine states that the book is a “Jodie Moore Thriller”, so we know our heroine will be back for another adventure. Let’s hope she remembers to pack her insulin when sets off on her next mission.
Author Dan Williams is a senior correspondent for Reuters, reporting from Israel and the Palestinian territories. Strip Mine is his first novel.