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Book Review: Angel in a Foreign City by Moti Shapira

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The main character of Angel in a Foreign City, private investigator Ethan, was a member of the Israeli Police Force. He conducted intelligence operations until the politics got the better of him. Relocated to Los Angeles, he started working for a former colleague as a PI.

Author Moti Shapira was a detective with the Central Unit of Investigation in the Israeli Police Force, and continues on a counter-terrorism team with the Israeli Defense Forces. He also works investigations for private clients.

The merging of autobiography can be an efficient vehicle for telling stories too difficult to relay in non-fiction. Certainly the uber-secret world of Israeli intelligence and specific missions does not always lend it self to a fully fleshed-out treatment in non-fiction narrative. Shapira gets around this by crafting a well-written story of a kidnapping rescue attempt in Mexico City. You can tell from some of the passages that this is a well-traveled road for the author, and that his descriptions of events and scenarios are based on things that have happened in his life.

Setting the story in Mexico City was a good choice. Shapira brings to life all the excess and poverty, history and modernity. In this noxious mix, the kidnapping trade is a booming business. Ethan is summoned to Mexico City on behalf of a wealthy client with a long list of enemies. Surrounded by incompetent and jealous employees, Mr. Valancia has to turn to Ethan to help rescue his daughter from kidnappers. With small odds that the kidnappers would return the daughter alive, Ethan has to fight against time, nosy police, and general bad luck to get the girl back. He enlists the aid of cohorts from back home, as well as a beautiful young student/waitress who captures Ethan’s heart.

The supporting characters are an interesting lot. Ethan’s associates, who he calls in from Los Angeles, are given brief introductions, and then thrown headway into the action. Normally that doesn’t allow them to be anything more than window dressing and padding, but here you get the sense of how vitally important they are to his operation without him having to go through every minute detail of their past. It’s, in a sense, very real.

It’s not all accolades for the book. If anything, the emotional distance of the main character, certainly appropriate for his position, seems to distract from a blossoming love story. This courtship with Lisa, the student/waitress, comes off as somewhat weaker than the rest of the story. It seems flat-out forced in parts. But the rest of the plot is strong enough to support this weaker section.

The ending is not what you would expect. Shapira drops some hints along the way, but lets enough stay hidden to give the finale enough of a punch to satisfy. Buoyed by Shapira’s clean, crisp writing style, Angels in a Foreign City is a strong, if not perfect, effort, and ready made for the screen.

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