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Exile    by Richard North Patterson order for
by Richard North Patterson
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Exile, Richard North Patterson gives us a totally absorbing legal thriller with characters who engage our sympathy and interest, set against a complex and detailed backdrop of Middle Eastern geopolitical realities.

The protagonist is Jewish San Francisco lawyer David Wolfe, who's approaching the pinnacle of what most would see as a highly successful life. He's engaged to marry lovely Carole Shorr, and feels closer to her father Harold than he ever did to his own distant parents. He has strong support for a run for Congress. We see him at a dinner for the rich and powerful, hosted by Carole to entertain Amos Ben-Aron, the visiting prime minister of Israel, who talks about his plans for reconciliation and a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Ben-Aron talks of 'an old man's dream - to sit beneath an olive tree and watch our grandchildren play, free of history's burden.' Then, he's blown up by suicide bombers as David and Carole look on.

The reader already met the two suicide bombers - Ibrahim Jefar and Iyad Hassan - as they waited in Mexico for their number to come up. We share the thoughts of the somewhat confused Ibrahim, the follower of the pair, as he contemplates killing the 'architect of his sister's shame and grief.' But his part goes awry, and though Hassan dies as expected, Ibrahim's bomb doesn't go off, and he survives to tell a tale to the authorities. His story implicates a Palestinian woman from David Wolfe's past, Hana Arif, whom he'd loved in law school, but who stayed with the man her closely knit family chose for her, Saeb Khalid.

Hana (who still wears on a chain the key to her father's lost home in Galilee) had recently called David - thirteen years after their last meeting - to tell him that she was in San Francisco with Saeb and their teen daughter Munira. After the assassination, when the Khalids are visited by the FBI and told not to leave the country, Hana asks David to act as her lawyer. He agrees, expecting a quick consultation. Instead, Hana is arrested as the mastermind of the assassination, and David must decide if he should help the woman he once loved, and lose everything he has worked for ever since - career, fiancée, and political future.

Of course, David takes on Hana's defense (where would be the story otherwise?), though unsure of her innnocence, and at a great cost - he loses his relationship to Carole and Harold Shorr (a Holocaust survivor) and is immediately dropped by his political mentors. The evidence against his client is strong, but David wonders why one of the bombers survived, why he had Hana's name and cell phone number - a surprising lapse in security, and how the bombers found out about a last-minute change in route. His far-reaching investigation takes him to the Middle East (where people he talks to are successively killed). And in jail, Hana agonizes over her separation from her daughter, now totally under Saeb's overly strict control.

Along with David Wolfe, the reader meets a variety of factions on all sides of the conflict, and gets glimmerings of the complexity (impossibility?) of its resolution. An Israeli general tells David that 'the law of unintended consequences was born in the Middle East.' When he returns and the trial begins, former trial lawyer Patterson offers us compelling courtroom drama, with the requisite last-minute surprise and intervention to close the case. I highly recommend Exile, both as a well-researched, clear and accessible tutorial on the Middle Eastern situation and as an excellent legal thriller, whose hero takes an unusual journey of discovery about his client and himself. Read this one! You will not be able to put it down.

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