A wayward son, a special agent seeking redemption, the terrorist threat, an arms deal gone wrong – these are the average elements of any old crime-thriller. In ‘Death In Shangri-La’ they’re given energetic impetus against an exquisite international backdrop of exotic locations. Simultaneously, the author incorporates some serious metaphysical heft, introducing themes and personalities from multiples faiths. Yet the story is foremost, and it propels the reader through the pages at an impressive pace.
Author Yigal Zur certainly has an eye for authentic detail which instantly transports you to Delhi’s ramshackle backstreets. You feel utterly familiar with the disputed landscape of Kashmir – and Zur delivers a scarily convincing enactment of a full-scale terrorist attack, in which teenage tourists are targeted by ruthless jihadi extremists. ‘Death In Shangri-La’ also serves as an introduction to an intriguing central character, Israeli Dotan Naor.
Dotan is an unusual protagonist. Sure, he’s ex-special forces / intelligence agency, and, sure, he has a reputation for being lethal at close quarters. But he’s left a life of violence behind him and works instead to rescue Israeli kids who’ve gone off the rails. When legal means won’t quite work, Dotan is the guy you call to extract a gap-year miscreant from a sticky situation.
He’s well-versed in all manner of Eastern theology, choosing a path of spirituality which isn’t necessarily anything to do with organised religion. Dotan’s insights come from meditation and genuine mindfulness; he’s seeking redemption by doing the right thing, not by following externally imposed imperatives – be they international law or religious doctrine.
So Dotan is a man of his own morality, who respects the beliefs of other people. He stands out from other covert operatives by using his mind to solve problems, and only resorting to violence when it becomes entirely necessary. Most of the book runs on high-wire tension, not dumb-ass fist fights.
Which makes Dotan’s attitude towards women really weird. It’s traditional for international men of mystery to be killer Casanovas, but most authors tend to downplay the womanising these days. That’s not the case with Dotan, who pretty much reduces every female he meets to a set of mammary glands. This attitude feels completely at odds with his otherwise enlightened life philosophy, and it wore pretty thin with me. I was more irritated by Dotan’s outdated attitude to women than I would have been by graphic scenes of explicit sexuality.
Even Maya the Mossad agent is little more than a romantic love-interest. As with every other female in the book she’s improbably beautiful. Unlike most Mossad operatives, however, she has to stop for a little hizzy fit after engaging the enemy, and all but swoons into Dotan’s protective embrace when he ripples his intellect. It’s all a bit 1950s.
That aside, ‘Death In Shangri-La’ is both exotic and engaging; an action-thriller from an entirely new perspective which contains enlightening insights within its carefully-choreographed plot. The English translation is clean and accessible, and it makes the most of the author’s snappy dialogue and sharp turn of phrase.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
‘Death In Shangri-La’ by Yigal Zur is available at Amazon