The Deadly Promise

Author: Gilou Bareau

Review by: Mark Furlong

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Less page-turning thriller than worthy tutorial, The Deadly Promise follows the changing politics of Zach Peretz, a 31 year old secular Jew. Set in London immediately before the third attack on Gaza in 2014, Zach’s story begins with him brashly expressing anti-Palestinian views.  For example, early in the book he says:

Jewish critics of Israel were infuriating people, not just traitors to the cause. With them it wasn’t possible to lob in the usual firecrackers. Like the word Zionist being a racist euphemism for Jew. It worked a treat with gentile critics of Israel. Shut them up straightaway (23).

Near the book’s conclusion, the narrator tells the reader:

Things Zach had seen before, but never registered, were now hitting him square in the face. Settlers and the army working hand in glove. The local authority dishing out assents to settlers like confetti, after having previously denied them to Palestinians who owned the houses and whose families had lived there for centuries (251).

What caused this profound transformation? Over the length of the book, Zach – the book’s hero-protagonist – has a series of encounters that re-forge his position from anti- to pro-Palestinian. Perforce, this conversion rehearses a mandatory trajectory. No other possibility is open to Zach or, by inference, the reader. The author’s moral purpose acknowledged, as a work of literature there are pros and cons.

First-up, the book’s genre is uncertain. Billed as a thriller, the title appears to deliberately recall those Dashiell Hammett / Raymond Chandler private-eye classics where locked away family traumas get to be inexorably played-out. Think generational booby-traps, mis-taken inheritances, accidental murder – and the hard-boiled, persevering detective who must see the case through to its doomy endpoint. In this instance, Zach seems to have been written to honour this tradition, mindful he is fashioned to project a contemporary kink. Yes, just like his detective forebears Zach is hard-living and worldly, honest and tough, but unlike these eccentric predecessors, by his own account he is a user of illicit drugs rather than an imbiber of hard liquor. Don’t call me a junkie, he says repeatedly, I am a ‘cocaine addict.’

The Deadly Promise is not imbued with the dark tone and seedy atmosphere that colours works such as The Dain Curse or The Big Sleep. In contrast, the book teems with product placements for the good life; trendy modern music is frequently name-checked – try Amy Winehouse; The Chemical Brothers – as are allied consumer items like good coffee, fine wine and classy food. More, the story has a holistically happy ending. This its-all-good conclusion sees Zach rehabilitated from his drug use, re-united with his young daughter and in receipt of an invitation to return to university study so he can resume his ascent towards happiness and personal success. This outcome belies the tone set up by the book’s title.

Along the way, there are highlights. Snatches of street dialogue, like the lively patois of a bunch of London skinheads, is finely captured. There are also several tart socio-cultural observations: ‘(When the doctor) spoke, his accent betrayed his privileged roots. He sounded like a 1950s advert for an exceedingly good mint (160).

Good work acknowledged, the construction of the protagonist’s ‘addiction’ is notably distracting. On the one hand, the reader is told Zach’s need to score is so compelling he frequently ‘stole whatever he could whenever he could, no matter who it belonged to. He even raided his dying mother’s jewellery box’ (71). And, the reader is also told Zach observes an intake schedule that defies temporal chemistry of his chosen substance.

Cocaine, a drug whose elevating effect is notoriously brief, is not a psycho-active drug whose intake can be regulated as Zach’s reportedly is; he is said to ingest his first line of the day around 11.30 a.m. And unlike other users, Zach never binges or crashes; he seems impervious to the compulsion to go again, and to the dramatic come-downs, others experience. We are told it is Zach’s practice to severely ration his very limited supply so that a single gram can deliver over several days. Best to say the author’s account describes a boutique dependence on, rather than an addiction to, cocaine.

Difficulties with credibility are not restricted to this one instance. Perhaps the most troubling example concerns the extent to which the narrative relies on fortuitous coincidences for its continuity. For example, having travelled from London to Tel Aviv to chase down the baddies responsible for his brother’s death, Zach and Hepzibah, his late brother’s estranged partner, arrive without a single lead. Like it was pre-ordained, they then see Seth – one of the baddies – working as a waiter at a restaurant. A little later, Zach says to Hepzibah:

(You) and I should go and see if Seth is at work. It’s not far to Dizengoff (where Seth works). Heps ((Hepzibah) could use her feminine charm and persuade him to ring Tamir (the big baddie) and get his friend to agree to see us peacefully (262).

A page on, the narrator writes:

They struck lucky, three times. First, Seth was working. Second, they saw him, but he didn’t see them. And third, there was a free table outside, with the umbrella already down (263).

A succession of improbable happenings do not make for a suspenseful read but, most likely, to say the story fails to suspend disbelief is to miss the point that the author is making about the injustices inflicted on the Palestinian people. Similarly, it is inappropriate to make the case that the book’s characters lack depth, that their portrayal is consistently two-dimensional and emotionally unrealistic, when the far larger issue concerns the violent colonialism occasioned by the Israeli state. Why is this so? At the outset it should be expected that the plot will resolve as it ethically should. It should also be understood that the required culprits will conform to the stereotypes that populate this expected plotline. And so it goes. The President of the Association of British Zionists, the protagonist’s abusive father, a maladjusted Baltic right-wing whacko – these usual suspects are the indentured culprits. Written under the pseudonym Gilou Bareau to protect the brave Jewish author, it is clear The Deadly Promise is best understood as a moral parable that was written for all of us on behalf of Jews4Palestine. More strength to Gilou and the group in your purpose, dedication and courage.