Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Lavie Tidhar

PS Publishing, 2011

Joe, a private detective, lives somewhere in the back of Asia, smokes a lot and drinks whiskey. When once he returns from the bar to his office, he is suddenly visited by a woman with a soft voice. She doesn’t reveal her name and asks Joe to find Mike Longshott, a man whose name is written on covers of a popular series of pulp novels with the main character with the name Osama Bin-Laden. A woman leaves a credit card to pay for expenses, says she will contact the investigator, and evaporates.

The publisher of Longshott’s books, Medusa Press, is located in Paris, but «the address was merely a post office box, not a street address». After talking with a bookseller friend, Joe finds that Mike Longshots is a pseudonym. From the same seller the detective discovers that Medusa Press publishes all sorts of pulp, from thrillers to softporno. «Filth. Utter junk, of course. Wonderful stuff» - says about these books the seller.

Joe immediately books tickets for a flight to Paris, but before leaving, someone attempts to kill him. To solve the client’s case, Joe will have to go to London and New York, meet with shady characters who work for the state, a mysterious private investigator, booksellers and opium dealers. His entire journey, Joe will be reading Longshott’s books, trying to get closer to unraveling the truth.

World of Joe is a world in which we haven’t lived, a world without terrorism. Explosions of buildings and airports, 9\11 - this never happened in the world of «Osama». And you begin to undersand it only some time since the beginning of the book, when Joe reads Longshott’s novels, and we know that he reads books about the bombings and deaths of thousands of innocent people as fiction. He reads and wonders: in his world, it was nothing like this. Joe travels around the world, but perhaps not as a private detective, but as a universal consciousness. Terrorism covers all countries and nations, even those there terrorist attacks have never been. And Joe is just the invisible element that unites the nations, though Joe himself has no idea about it.

Yes, the protagonist here drinks hard, sometimes is trying to crack jokes, falls in love with a client, whom had seen only once, but it is all the formal signs of what «Osama» is not, namely, a PI novel. If Tidhar’d make Joe not a detective with a license, but simply "a master of all trades", this would only make the book better. One can hardly believe in Joe’s detective skills, but he does not pretend to be able to find someone. Joe's more comfortable to sit at the bar and sip alcohol, walk through the streets of capital cities, than in solving the case. Joe, and this is obviously, is one of those who are looking for himself, not for others. Tidhar is lucky that with the search of himself, Joe finds what he was looking for, otherwise the novel would fallapart.

Lyrical style of the author alone is at odds with a pace of a thriller, who then serves as a screen. But behind the screen is just lovely Tidhar’s prose, with its accurate descriptions of urban landscapes and the ability to capture the sadness of man in a bar with a glass in his hand (Tidhar sometimes overdoes lists, it should be noted):

«The air felt humid, feverish, but not of the tropics: a city's smell hung on it like limp laundry, a smell of pavement slabs and concrete blocks and cars and fumes and smoke and food and urine and spilled alcohol and spilled tears, it was a smell of many lives».

It is difficult to say, has Bin-Laden turned over in his grave after this novel or not (even harder to say is Bin-Laden alive or dead), but who cares about Bin-Laden? Just read «Osama».

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