Maror by Lavie Tidhar

I was expecting a fairly normal detective story but what I got is a history of the state of Israel which ends up showing us that although a state of a particular religious group, it is no better or worse than any other state. In fact, its development is remarkably similar to most western countries; the good and the bad are inextricably linked.

The book starts off with a car bombing and a detective, who is high, attempting to solve the crime. It was meant for Reubenstein but missed him and killed two children walking to school. It is at this time that we meet Chief Inspector Cohen, a man who sees it as his job to contain crime rather than solve it and who is linked to the major crime families and groups. But what he also does is quote from the bible regularly – a disturbing mix of violence, drugs and religion. At one point, he is described as a man for the state, who loves his country and who is a reflection of it.

After this event we jump back to the 70s to meet the young Cohen to oversee his journey from being a young policeman to the man who manipulates and schemes in later life and who is always in the background pulling the strings.

The book is structured around real historical events. We get the land grabs, the invasion of Lebanon, the assassination of Rabin but with drugs and gun running and people always looking for an opportunity to make money. The Russians become involved and as the music festivals of the 90s take off so does Ecstasy. The book is almost a history of drugs in Israel as well as the making of a state.

This is an exceptional noir novel with its morally compromised protagonists, the corrosive effects of money and the darkness of the themes. Maror is the bitter herb that reminds Jews of the pain behind the exodus but now it also reminds us of the creation of a state that is no different to anywhere else. Remarkable.

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