I wanted to expose the reader to the “behind the scenes” of the law enforcement system

Liad Shoham is an Israeli writer and attorney. His books are realistic depictions of Israel’s criminal justice system, as the police and the courts themselves are reflections of the country’s society.

Without giving out the novel’s ending, could you please tell us if, as a lawyer, you have had problems in the past with tabloids?

I work as a commercial attorney and in these fields contact with the media is, for the most part, voluntary. However, I have seen repeatedly how people who seek to publicize themselves quickly have been hurt, and therefore I advise my clients to avoid this as much as possible. At the same time, there is no doubt that the role of the media is of the utmost importance in preserving democracy. In my book I wanted to demonstrate how the crisis in the media impacts daily life in our newspapers – a lack of sufficient funds to carry out thorough investigations, an inclination towards sensationalism and, sometimes, also the impact on the human resource. It is getting harder and harder for “old media” to recruit talented people. However the picture that I tried to paint was, to some extent, even broader. Whereas the book deals with the legal system, I attempted to show how this crisis of the press also influences the justice system as well as the reciprocal relations between the two systems. One of the reasons that the police officer in the book fails is because he is pressured by his commanders who are in turn pressured by the media. The media insists on a swift conviction, to some extent, because it is an industry in crisis.

The more the story goes, the less the pair of police/judicial can handle the investigation. Did you particularly work on the plot in order to show the weaknesses of the Israeli legal system?

I wanted to expose the reader to the “behind the scenes” of the law enforcement system. This is the main reason that the book is narrated from various viewpoints. The reader is exposed to all the players and receives a glimpse of their motives, their considerations and their interests. In the book every player tries to do his very best – from their point of view, and sometimes in order to serve their personal interests. And indeed, as each of the players acts as he sees fit the story becomes complex and the result is, to a great extent, destructive. The book was written in Israel for an Israeli audience. While writing, I did not imagine that it would be translated at all but now I hear over and over that the plot could have taken place in any Western democracy. This illustrates that the flaws identified in the story are universal and exist in many legal systems. And perhaps, as is often said – the more local the story, the more universal it is.

The novel opens with an old lady examining her street at night with binoculars. All along the novel, you keep this focal distance and Tel Aviv never appears in the background. Why is that?

I believe this “lack of location” stems from two reasons. One, Tel Aviv is a city which, by its nature, is no different from many other cities worldwide (to differentiate perhaps from Jerusalem). Secondly, as a writer (and to be honest, as a person) I am much more interested in people, their motives and their emotions than with their surroundings. Even the weather is only mentioned in my books if it moves the plot and all this plot needed was “a city”.

However, despite the lack of physical descriptions of the city, the feedback I get is that the book is very Israeli. Although my intent was not to present Israeliness, I agree with this claim. Firstly, as I stated, all the characters in the book improvise. I think that this characterises young countries and in particular countries such as Israel where something is always happening and improvisation is paramount. Also the small territory, small population and the familial intimacy derived from these certainly come across in the book.

Do you think about the reader during the writing process?

I do not write books for myself and therefore it is very important for me to know what the readers think and I consider them while writing. However, I do not let them silence me or try to write something that everyone will like. I have learned that if you try to be liked by everyone, you will fail (in particular when you write about social issues as I do). The way in which I maintain a connection with the reader is twofold. First, during writing I work closely with my editor and consult with my wife (both my editor and my wife do not spare me criticism and thanks to them a lot of the nonsense that I write never sees the light of day). Second, I am very meticulous in reviewing readers’ critiques. I learn considerably from them and try to improve. On more than one occasion I have even made contact with readers who wrote interesting reviews in order to understand their opinions in depth.

When a French librarian writes a bibliography about mystery novels around the world, he only adds Batya Gour to the entry “Israel”. Is the Israeli mystery novel doing well right now?

Israeli crime fiction has undergone a significant transformation. When Israel was founded and faced crucial problems, being involved with crime fiction was considered to be lightweight and inadequate. Israel’s development also signals a change in this field. In this context, my books express this change. They do not deal with the Israeli Arab conflict or issues that people are used to reading about Israel. They are very popular and are read by all walks of the population. In practice, crime fiction is a successful genre of literature in Israel. Last but not least, I wish to add that Bataya Gour was indeed a beloved and respected author, a pioneer of the genre who influenced many Israeli writers including myself.