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Shake Off    by Mischa Hiller order for
Shake Off
by Mischa Hiller
Order:  USA  Can
Mulholland, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mischa Hiller, author of Sabra Zoo, now gives us Shake Off, an engrossing spy thriller whose protagonist is (for once) not a Western agent. Palestinian refugee Michel Khoury (born in the Sabra camp in Beirut) saw his entire family shot in front of him a young age (a trauma that left him unable to sleep without taking codeine). He was adopted by a reserved Palestinian couple, well educated, and carefully groomed by PLO agent Abu Leila as a spy.

After being trained in all the subtleties of spycraft in Soviet Russia, Michel is given a false Lebanese identity and sent to study in the U.K., where he also takes on regular assignments for his handler and father figure, Abu Leila (his sole contact in the organization). Michel lives in a Kentish Town bedsit with a shared bathroom, which is where he hides his stash of passports and cash. He avoids exiled Arab circles, especially Palestinians. Michel's entire life is focused on his mission. When he asks his mentor how the cycle of hatred and violence stops, he's told that one 'must make sure the price you pay for self-preservation does not come at someone else's expense.'

Michel is laying the ground in England for a secret meeting between Israelis and Palestinians that 'would change the course of history' (or so he has been led to believe). As in the tradition of the best espionage novels, nothing is as it seems, and our hero faces layer upon layer of betrayal, beginning with his discovery that Abu Leila's objectives are not in line with those of the Old Man (Arafat). But first Michel meets his new neighbor, Helen, when she slams out of her room after some trouble with the married professor with whom she's having an affair. Gradually, friendship evolves into something more - but can it survive the secrets he keeps from her?

Then Michel meets Abu Leila in Berlin and his secret life falls apart. Back in England and under surveillance, he ends up on the run and seeks refuge in Scotland, along with Helen. When violence and danger follow them there, he's forced to tell her the truth. And he finally returns to his roots. Shake Off is a wonderful, thought-provoking story, dark all the way through, but with a ray of hope in its ending. Don't miss it.

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