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Richard Steinitz

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Murder Over the Border
by Richard Steinitz   

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Publisher:  Self-published


Copyright:  2011

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MURDER OVER THE BORDER is a mystery set in the context of the Middle East Peace Process.

This is a mystery set in the context of the Middle East Peace Process. The hero, Yossi Abulafia, is an Israeli policeman on army reserve duty near the Jordanian border. Instead of watching the border, he is taking photographs of antelope when the observation post he is sitting in collapses and he is seriously injured. During the accident, he unwittingly takes a photograph of what appears to be a murder -- on the other side of the border with Jordan.

As a result of his accident, he is transferred to a boring desk job. He uses his connections to try and investigate what happened on the other side of the river. In the course of his new job, he travels to Amsterdam for a conference where he meets Aziz -- a Jordanian police officer. During the few days they are together, the two men become friends, but are attacked twice by an unknown assailant - the ‘shooter’. The first attack passes without any damage, but the second is far more serious. Both men are shot, Yossi loses consciousness and is returned to Israel.

As a result of his disabilities from the second accident, Abulafia is discharged from the police force against his will. He is semi-crippled, walks with difficulty and the aid of a cane. His close friend Yehiel, a lawyer and now special advisor to the Prime Minister, offers Yossi a job. Yehiel is in charge of the secret negotiations being conducted with the Palestinians in Oslo. Yossi, who is not enthusiastic about the idea of talking to the PLO, becomes his general factotum and police liaison.

hrough the lens he saw the little antelope approaching. Its markings were perfect, with two little pointed ears standing as if antennae. As he thought of the word “antennae”, it raised its head, as if it had heard something.

As the antelope started to move, he squeezed his trigger finger ever so gently, and with a slight click, the animal was his, captured forever on the black and white film. The antelope ran off, having heard the sound of the Nikon being wound on, and Lt. (Res.) Yossi Abulafia put his camera down.

He turned back to what he was supposed to be doing – watching the highway on the Jordanian side of the border. It was boring work, since there was little traffic on the road that leads from Irbid on the Jordanian plateau down the rift valley to Aqaba. Once or twice an hour, a vehicle would drive down the road. If it was a military truck or Land-Rover, he would check the markings painted on it against his list, and mark down: “two-ton truck, 15th infantry division, heading south”, or “Land-Rover, 2nd Armored Corps, heading north”, or something like that. This was supposed to be one way that Military Intelligence had of checking Jordanian army movements, but no one seemed to take it very seriously.

Abulafia didn't really have to be where he was, doing such a boring job. As a Commander in the Jerusalem Police Department (Murder Squad), he was exempt from the yearly stint of military reserve duty that all Israelis between 21 and 55 were called upon to perform. However, he had voluntarily given up his exemption, for several reasons. Officially he had said that he felt that if all his fellow-citizens had to do reserve duty, then he saw no good reason for policemen to be exempted. The real reason was that he enjoyed getting away from police duty for one month a year, while not being on holiday with his family. He found that it helped clear his mind of all sorts of rubbish that accumulated over the year, and when he returned to the police department after military service, he was much better at his job, at least for the first few months.

The regiment he served in (and had served with for the last twenty years, through three wars and countless tours of reserve duty), had for the past five years done its service here on the Jordanian border. It was relatively easy duty, with groups of ten to fifteen soldiers being stationed in little fortifications that were strung along the border like beads on a string. At night they watched the border for infiltrators, using star-light scopes and infrared equipment, and during the day they kept tabs on the soldiers of the Arab Legion. All day long they would write down the movements of the Jordanians, and every day or two someone from Intelligence would come by and collect the reports. Presumably the Legionnaires on the other side were doing the same.

There was a bonus to the service. Four years earlier, Yossi had been stationed at Charlie Post, which sat on a little hill near the triangular border between Israel, Jordan and Syria. During his daytime shifts, he had become bored, and when not looking across the border, had noticed a flock of antelope that wandered over the hill and approached one of the lookout posts. Due to the inside ring of barbed wire that surrounded the fort, they couldn't come up to where he was sitting, but they came within about fifty meters. The minefields between the inside ring of barbed wire and a second one further out didn’t bother the little animals, as they weren’t heavy enough to set them off. The telescope that was supposed to be used for watching Jordanian trucks could be turned just enough so that he could get a close-up view of the antelopes and what he saw had changed his attitude to wildlife forever. Whereas before he had been, if anything, disinterested, he was now totally and completely enraptured by the beauty of the little beasts. Between tours of reserve service he had begun to read up on the antelopes, invested in an expensive camera and long telephoto lens and when on duty, spent (if the truth be told) more time watching the animals than the Jordanians.

As a lieutenant and titular commander of the little post, he was not required to do the daily surveillance shifts, but he would relieve one of his soldiers for a few hours every day, in order to be able to watch the animals. Each year, when Abulafia reported for duty, he asked for, and received, posting to that particular fort, and now after five years, he knew most of the antelopes by sight, each with slightly different markings, and rejoiced in the new kids that were added to the flock each year. His office in the old Police Department building in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem was covered with photographs of the antelopes, and his colleagues joked with him that they had replaced the “Wanted” posters that should have been there.

On this particular day traffic had been extremely light, and Yossi had spent even more time than usual watching the antelopes. After the last “shot”, which he hoped had captured the head of a particularly beautiful doe, his conscience awoke and he returned, albeit regretfully, to watching the Jordanian highway. Since it was already the end of November, light would fade fast in the afternoon, and he hoped there would be some movement of Legion cars or trucks which he could write down in his report. Otherwise it would look suspiciously blank, and he would have another argument with the particularly unpleasant lieutenant from Intelligence who picked up the daily reports.

Professional Reviews

Tower Lowe's review on GoodReads
5 of 5 stars

This is an exciting novel of intrigue and terror. Murder over the Border by Richard Steinitz reflects the author's knowledge of Israel and Palestine and a fine sense of what it takes to keep a reader turning the pages.

Yossi, a commander in the Jerusalem Police Department is serving a yearly stint in the Israeli military. At his outpost on the Jordanian border, he photographs a murder in Jordan, before suffering a head injury and nearly forgetting the crime. But, in this part of the world, little remains secret or hidden for long. The eyes and ears of spies and security forces for both the Israeli's and the Palestinian Authority are everywhere. Soon, the forces behind the murder show up in Yossi's life. The protagonists faces challenges to his work and his life, but continues to pursue the connection of the crime in his photograph to efforts for peace and efforts to disrupt peace in the area.

The actors in this middle east drama are loveable, but can't afford to be soft. Readers get a knowledgeable look at the inside of negotiations, the culture of the region, and the painful conflicts the people endure. Yet Mr. Steinitz does not take sides. The evildoers in this novel are the extremists on either side. The heroes are those who love life and family more than conflict. This is a fine novel of intrigue and action, but also an informative and thoughtful look at the often ignored world of moderate actors in this arena. I strongly recommend that you read this book.

SBW's Review on Amazon
Richard Steinitz spins an exciting yarn about an Israeli policeman who, through a series of accidents (both physical and otherwise) finds himself at the centre of an international murder mystery, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and a counter-espionage case to protect it. A true page-turner, the reader becomes quickly attached to both the characters and plot as the story unfolds. Steinitz writes in a gripping style; easy to digest yet strong in delivery.

The plot arc is well-composed and easy to follow. The three main lines tie together very neatly, and it is those intersecting moments which keep the reader anxiously engaged with the story. While Steinitz paints a broad picture, it remains easy to track throughout. A true pleasure to read.

It is clear that this book is more than just a murder mystery or spy thriller; Steinitz is also telling us about the country he loves. Israel is another character in the story. The book is all the more compelling due to Steinitz's descriptions of the landscape, its fauna, and the day-to-day tidbits about life in Israel such as the escape which Israeli men enjoy once a year in the army reserve, the spontaneous ebbs and flows of government work, and Israeli attitudes towards matters as big as the peace process or as small as which sort of falafel is best.

The book is fun to read, and offers a different angle to Israeli life than one normally gets from the usual sources. An excellent debut for Steinitz who, I hope, is working on further developing the interesting characters introduced in `Murder over the Border'.

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