PUBLICATION DATE: August 14, 2012
f you like spy thrillers, check out Mischa Hiller’s latest novel, Shake Off. Hiller, the acclaimed author of Sabra Zoo, is back with a tautly constructed story of a spy on the run. Although perhaps less haunting and memorable than Sabra Zoo, Shake Off is likely to garner quite a bit of positive attention as well.
The publisher describes Shake Off as “an internationally acclaimed thriller of love, espionage and subterfuge, in which Middle East meets West with dangerous consequences.”
The central character, Michel Khoury, has endured years of training to become a skilled intelligence operative. As the story progresses, we learn that he is a refugee whose family was murdered by extremists. His primary goal is to see the peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict that has caused such tragedy in his own personal life. Much of the books revolves around his relationship with his handler and mentor.
There’s also a romance angle. Michel falls in love with Helen, an attractive English girl who lives in the apartment next-door. Of course, she has no clue as to his true identity. As their relationship develops, Michel is unable to tell Helen about his past. What will happen to their relationship if she finds the collection of passports and unmarked bills he’s hidden in the bathroom? As they spend more time together, this aspect of the story helps to build the tension. The love between Michel and Helen feels real and we want them to work out, but we wonder how that can happen with all the secrets Michel has kept from her.
The action heats up pretty quickly and Helen and Michel find themselves pursued through the streets of London, Berlin and even the Scottish countryside. Without giving anything away, Michel is betrayed by those he trusted and the surprises built into the plot ratchet up the suspense.
Overall, this is an enjoyable spy story with an intriguing plot. We get a good sense for the settings, primarily London and Berlin. My one complaint is that the development of Michel’s character is a bit inconsistent. We are supposed to believe that he is highly intelligent and very well-trained. He’s shown to be extremely good at what he does. Nothing gets by him. And yet, he misses some things that seem fairly obvious at times, and there’s no explanation for this built into the story. Still, ultimately Michel is a very sympathetic character and we care about what happens to him. Similarly, his relationship with Helen is well-written and, as mentioned above, provides added interest to the story. The plot moves at a good pace and the action seems realistic. The political angle is handled nicely; we are educated without being preached to. It’s apparent that Hiller is a talented writer.