A lawyer by trade and crime fiction author by happy accident, Liad Shoham has been called Israel’s John Grisham for his complex novels. He certainly lives up to the hype with his latest book, “Lineup,” an edge-of-your-seat thriller that also happens to be his first book translated into English.
After a first degree at the Hebrew University, he came to London in 1997 to do a law course, and it was in London, he says, that his writing career began. “I had a fabulous year at LSE, and when I came back to Israel, I started to work as a lawyer,” he recalls. “But it was a very small, cramped office, and I was a bit depressed. So I began daydreaming and writing stories about my adventures in London.” These stories eventually morphed into Shoham’s first book, “London in a Pitta Bread.”
Fresh off the plane from a book festival in France, Shoham was kind enough to speak with me about his new book and the inspiration behind. Here is what he had to say…
What made you want to write “Lineup” at this moment? What were some of your influences? I was influenced by the TV show “The Wire,” which offers a lot of perspectives from the different characters’ point of view. The series had an enormous effect on me. I watched it with my wife when she was toward the end of her pregnancy and was having difficulty sleeping. Through watching the series, I realized how powerful it was to see a dramatic story told from various angles. I tried to show what happens behind the scenes of the judicial system. That’s why “Lineup” is told from the standpoint of the victim, her family, the police, the prosecutors, the courts, journalists, gangsters and others. Every character is motivated by their moral standards. I hope this book gives readers a glimpse of how easily those influencing the judicial system can make it go awry. Each of these characters symbolized a part of the judicial system, with their own agenda and motives. I don’t write them as purely evil and purely good.
Your sister is a Public Defender, right? Do you think that gave you some insight and empathy into the world of criminals—and that anyone can be falsely accused? Absolutely. My sister helped me to understand the complexities of her job. She pointed out that PD’s have to fight an entire system and are always hated for supporting the supposed criminal. People need to remember that anyone can be falsely accused and that from time to time the system gets it wrong. Then the only person in the world who can help the accused is the PD. Actually that’s how I got the idea for “Lineup” . . . . My sister told me the story of a rape victim, whose father supposedly found him [the rapist] as he walked outside of his daughter’s apartment. The father convinced the police, the prosecutor, and even his daughter who the rapist was. That person came very close to getting convicted. In the very late stages the prosecutor realized they were trying the wrong man. I took that story and developed it by adding mafia crime and bombings.
This is your first novel that is translated to English. Were you writing any differently, knowing it would be released to an American audience as well? Not at all. I didn’t know at the time I was writing that this would be published in English or any other language for that matter. I think thrillers have a common language. Everyone can relate to what I wrote. The theme is universal since every country suffers from crime and how the judicial system reacts. I intentionally didn’t write about the Palestinian conflict because I didn’t want that to be all Israel is about. Israelis are people with human emotions, feelings, love, family, and work—not just the conflict that Americans see on the news all day.
When discussing your wife earlier, I wanted to touch on the fact that you said you “fell in love with a criminal mastermind.” Tell me about this. It is my wife who has come up with some of the elegant plot twists in “Lineup.” She has beautiful ideas although it is a little bit frightening. Obviously you can’t ask someone on the first date how to plot a murder [for the book]. After a few years of marriage, it is now our Friday night dinner conversation.
What would you say is the theme of your books? My stand-alone books all involve social problems. I try to choose a subject that disturbs me and make a thriller out of it.
You are very well known in Israel, but in America you are what we call a “rookie” —how do you feel? I am excited and frightened. I am the number-one crime fiction author in Israel. I know it will be hard work to climb the ladder here, but I am already published in Europe. I think Israelis are influenced by a lot of American culture, including myself, who has read a lot of American authors like John Grisham.
What’s next for you? I am now in an exciting period of my life. “Lineup” is due to soon be released in seven languages. I am particularly excited by the publication in the United States, which was and is a dream come true. Next year, my latest book, “Asylum City,” will be released in many countries. The book relates to the problem of African refugees flowing into Israel. This situation upsets a lot of Israelis, which is similar to how many Americans feel. America and Israel deal with a lot of the same issues. “Asylum City” is being developed into a television series, which I am very involved in. It is both exciting and interesting to enter a new field and learn about it.
Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and currently works for the CEO and President of the Jewish Federation & Family Services.