“Some people want to make you the new Lee Harvey Oswald,” the US ambassador to Singapore tells journalist Jethro Westrope, better known as Jet West. This simple proposition is what lies at the heart of Khaled Talib’s fast-paced thriller, Smokescreen – which he calls “a novel of deception.”
In Talib’s words, “At an ancient café in Cairo, two veteran spies plot a covert mission to resolve — once and for all — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pledge: Israel will make a major concession as part of the peace treaty.”
“At an ancient café in Cairo, two veteran spies plot a covert mission to resolve — once and for all — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pledge: Israel will make a major concession as part of the peace treaty.”Khaled Talib
Secret talks between the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinians, aimed at a “land-for-peace” deal, have been brokered by officials in Singapore friendly to the Israeli government. Influential Israeli right-wingers, appalled at the prospect but powerless to thwart it, hatch a plot to assassinate the prime minister on his forthcoming visit to Singapore. They select Jet, a harmless fun-loving Singapore journalist, as the “patsy,” to be set up and framed for the assassination.
As a first step toward branding Jet as the potential assassin, the plotters arrange the murder of a contact of his and leave evidence linking him to her death. Before dying, she manages to warn him of the danger he is in.
As Jet struggles to avoid being charged with killing her, the assassination plan and the efforts to frustrate it go ahead. They involve a wide range of parties: the Mossad and the IDF, Singapore high-ups and its police force, and the governments of Israel, Singapore and the US. In the fascinating and intricate plot woven by Talib, each group has its own agenda, often in conflict with each other, while Jet struggles to free himself from becoming involved in the planned assassination.
Author Khaled Talib is himself a journalist. “Writing an article and producing a manuscript are chalk and cheese,” he said recently in an interview, highlighting the amount of hard work needed to produce a novel.
“Writing an article and producing a manuscript are chalk and cheese.”Khaled Talib
Asked what had inspired him to write Smokescreen, he said he became fascinated by Singapore’s relationship with Israel, since “the little island in Southeast Asia is paranoid about its Muslim neighbors.” He discovered that Singapore had sought military advice from Israel decades ago to build its army, and had almost been dragged into a confrontation with the Arab world in the 1970s after a group of Palestinian commandos from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had teamed up with the Japanese Red Army and tried to blow up an oil refinery on a small island belonging to Singapore.
“My novel contains multiple themes,” he said, “which includes the United States’ position on the question of Palestine. In fact, you could say this novel depicts the US government, the leaders of the Arab world and Israel in a Mexican standoff.” Smokescreen, he says, reveals how easy it is to manipulate the media, and also that sometimes the media wants to be manipulated.
“In the Middle East,” he asserts, “you will discover that many people often say what they don’t mean... you really have to decipher what they are saying.”
It is a pity that a novel with so much in its favor should suffer from poor proofreading and typographical errors. Throughout the book, some paragraphs are set in italics when only a phrase or sentence requires it. The effect on the reader is disconcerting and distracting. Fortunately, it does not detract from the merits of the novel as a whole.
Among its endorsers is Jon McGoran, author of Drift, who writes, “In this action-packed thriller, Khaled Talib explores the little-known relationship between Singapore and Israel, spinning a web of international intrigue that expands across the globe as inexorably as it tightens around his protagonist’s throat.”
Smokescreen grabs the reader’s attention from the very beginning – the Prologue which sets the scene – and maintains its grip to the very end. The novel is heartily recommended to lovers of a fast-moving thriller with a contemporary theme. They will be in their element. ■
SmokescreenKhaled TalibTyphoon Media343 pages, $12.50