Dancing Bear by Oren Sanderson (Amazon Digital Services, 2014)
Dancing Bear by Oren Sanderson is an espionage novel based of one of the experiences the author had while working security at the Israeli embassy in Boston:
“My most remarkable case was that young lady who entered the Consulate on false claim- asking to see me for special visa extension request- and then refused to leave. It was a few years after an Israeli diplomatic crate, on its way to Israel, was mistakenly opened in the airport of Rome in Italy, and a cuffed man was found inside. That young woman begged and insisted that she should be shipped to Israel in such diplomatic crate.
According to her story, she was a part of an Israeli student union In MIT- perhaps the most prestigious Ivy League university in our area. The student union was managed by two famous Israeli students, sons of well-known right wing families in Israel. Now, she said the union is blamed for spying in the U.S., and it’s our duty to smuggle her out of the country. The procedure on such cases is clear and sharp- we are not allowed to deal with it. I however couldn’t resist calling one of these students. He clearly said that not only she is not part of the union, but as a matter of fact, he never heard her name before.”.
The book begins with the narrator, David, spending another day at the Israeli embassy, dealing with the usual parade of petitioners who come into the secure antechamber. The exact date of the narrative is never given, but it seems to be around 1990. He asks them what they want, notes their arrival and tries to find someone in the diplomatic corps to answer their questions. He’s being doing the security job for some and enjoys it.
David is the son of a college professor and an Israeli woman from the back country. His mom ran off on him at an early age and his dad spent most of the rest of his life chasing after skirts. Danny, holding went back to Israel, became a paratrooper, but eventually went back to the US where he received a law degree. Needless to say, he finds himself caught between two worlds.
But when a stunning women enters the visitor’s area and pleads to see the diplomat with tales of “information vital to the survival of Israel”, David becomes a little too interested. Soon he finds himself head over heels in love with this fallen bird and ends up taking her to a friend’s house for safekeeping. And it gets worse: He abandons his job at the embassy to hide out with her on Cape Cod. Soon, he discovers several groups are chasing after the both of them.
His friends still at the embassy try to get him to see reason, but David hooks up with some expat Israel friends for help. Then he has the girl snatched right out from under him. It all has to do with a covert operation she was running for the Israeli government. The Israeli secret service has obtained documents the American government wants back. Or is she making the whole thing up?
The author managers to throw a lot of characters at the reader in the space of the novel. There’s a former Israel fighter pilot. Two arms smugglers. An auto repair shop run by Israeli mechanic. And a pizza shop which serves the best schwarma on the East Coast.
There’s a gruesome description of the nerve gas attack on a Kurdish village by Saddam Hussein’s army:
“The first ones collapsed seven minutes after the shelling started; the last, ten minutes after it stopped. Over 5,000 people died. Their bodies were piled one on top of the other, their skin covered in blisters, their eyes wide open and their faces twisted in an expression of unbelievable pain. Fluids continued to drip from their bodies for days afterward.”
It’s a convoluted novel with more surprises than a house of secrets. You have to read to the final page to understand the title of the book. I admit to being a little surprised by the ending, but it was consistent with the plot.
Ultimately, the novel comes down to trying to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. It’s a recurring theme in espionage fiction. Rather or not it’s resolved depends on your point of view.