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Gumshoes and Sleuths: Exile by Richard North Patterson

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Richard North Patterson has crafted an international legal thriller in Exile that is at its best in the courtroom but also manages to deftly balance the ideologies and realities of the Middle East without being patronizing to either side.

David Wolfe, a successful and politically well-connected attorney in San Francisco is asked to defend a woman, Hana Arif, who is accused of being behind the assassination of the visiting Prime Mininster of Israel by a survivor of the suicide bomber team. One complicating factor: Hana and David had a secret affair while in law school. Another more complicating factor: Hana is Palestinian and David is Jewish. Believing Hana to have been set up by person or persons unknown, David agrees to represent her and creates a defense that may bring to light secrets that some are willing to kill to keep hidden.

Much of the story in Exile takes place in Israel and the Occupied Territories, even if current events play out in the U.S. And Patterson devotes about a quarter of the book to a brief history of the conflict there in the guise of a trip David takes to the region to learn more for his defense of Hana. But, as he is told by a trusted friend, "Israel is not a place that lends itself to easy understanding. For that, you'll need a guide."

Patterson, himself, tries to be that guide in providing what certainly appears to be a fair representation of the Middle East situation. He has obviously done a vast amount of research on the subject, and he is to be applauded for the impartial way in which it is presented. But is there a lesson to be learned here? As David is told upon his arrival in Israel: "[The lesson] is simple. Don't ever think you understand this place."

The courtroom scenes are riveting. It's easy for the reader to imagine themselves part of the jury, watching the dynamics of the prosecution and defense, straining to hear every word of the witnesses, trying to sort out what is fact and fiction, what is hypothetical and rhetorical. Clearly the best part of Exile, it's somewhat unfortunate these scenes are relatively brief.

In a final ironic twist, and much like the situation in the Middle East itself, Exile ends leaving much unresolved. There is no "happily ever after" conclusion here. Though the case ends, the future for its participants is unknown and the mystery of who exactly was behind the assassination of the Prime Minister remains just that.

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