One of the things that makes this segment so much fun is getting to know different authors through their answers. Honestly, though, Jonathan de Shalit is still a big-time mystery. . . in a good, ambiguously cool kind of way. The man is a former high-ranking Israeli intelligence officer. I don’t know anything beyond that, and next to no information comes up when you Google him. Even the picture attached just above was, I’m told, carefully crafted to conceal his identity. . .
What I’m getting at, is that Jonathan de Shalit is in real life what many of the genre’s best characters are in the fictional worlds created by their authors. And this isn’t some publicity stunt, it’s for real. It’s almost as if Daniel Silva’s series protagonist, Gabriel Allon (an Israeli intelligence officer), wrote a book. In fact, it was for that reason entirely that I could not wait to read Traitor.
From the get-go, it’s obvious that the author clearly has the experience to make this debut a standout title in a crowded genre. Authenticity bleeds onto every page. . . from tradecraft to spy lingo, and, on top of it all, de Shalit is a very good writer. The book isn’t packed with action, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a thinking man’s spy thriller, and it’s really good.
Special thanks to Jonathan de Shalit for agreeing to go on the record for this segment. See the Q&A below, then keep scrolling to read the plot details for Traitor, in stores everywhere tomorrow, Tuesday, January 30th.
TRBS: What made you decide to write your first thriller?
Jonathan de Shalit: “As I assume all writers do, I wanted to tell a story. I wanted to convey the notion that secret things happen around us all the time, that many things are not what they appear to be, that there is always someone whispering. I wanted to show that once you enter this world of mirrors, you really cannot be sure where you are, who is handling you, who decides your fate. And I also wanted to suggest that love tears at the seams of even the best intelligence operations. Love is the radical, wild, free variable that can destruct the most elaborate operational planning. It offers a road to freedom, a dangerous one.”
TRBS: Where did you come up with the plot idea for Traitor, and how long did it take you to write it?
Jonathan de Shalit: “I played with the idea of someone knocking on a door, but fatefully, without being aware, he enters a totally different world. And I wondered how he would react when he starts to doubt his perception of reality when he discovers that he is part of a very different story. I wanted to see the world through the eyes of a traitor, and that is how I started to build the plot. And then, the characters took partial control of the story and began to pull it in their direction, at their will. Being such highly independent and stubborn people, they influenced me quite a lot. With Ya’ara’s streaks of violence and vanity, and with Aharon Levin’s brilliance, the plot could not have been very different, could it?
“The book took about a year to write. I did not have a lot of writing time, only the small hours of night. So it took a while. And then the editing process, which was very important, took some more time. And all the committees that had to screen and approve the book, some more months. All in all, almost two years.”
TRBS: How much of Alon is actually you, and what are the biggest differences between you and your main character?
Jonathan de Shalit: “When I finished writing the book I asked myself, who is the main character? Is it the traitor? Is it one of the teams hunting him? Is it Aharon Levin, former chief of Mossad? Maybe Michael? But in the end, it was clear to me that Ya’ara, the beautiful, violent, charming operative is in my eyes, without doubt, the main character. She is the person who we care about, who intrigues us, who we want to know better.
“Of course, I am nothing like her. And no part of Alon is me. He is cold-blooded. He doesn’t care. I do.
“Some may think that I am much like Michael. But he is too thin.”
TRBS: Your work is being compared to Daniel Silva, Jason Matthews, and Charles Cummings, among others. Which authors do you personally enjoy reading?
Jonathan de Shalit: “Traitor is a conscious homage to John le Carré. He is even mentioned in the book. And his thrillers are literature at its best. I deeply enjoyed most of his books, because even when he is not in top form, he is great. I like reading PD James. I was sure she would leave us a great Adam Dalgliesh novel to be published after death, but she didn’t. What a shame. I love James Salter. He wrote as if an angel were standing on his shoulder. Pat Barker is wonderful. And yes, Daniel Silva is great fun.”
TRBS: What’s next for you. . . do you plan to write another thriller, and if so, will it be in the same universe as Traitor or something completely new?
Jonathan de Shalit: “The next thriller was published in Israel in August 2017. It is called Cadets, and although it is a ‘stand-alone’ book, some of the characters of Traitor also appear in it. Ya’ara takes the whole book on her shoulders, she is brilliant and successful, but she starts to pay a heavy price. I am proud to say that it was also a bestseller in my country, and I hope it will be published in the USA in the not-too-far future. I am now in the middle of writing the third book of what appears to be a trilogy. After that, I hope Ya’ara will be able to rest a bit. I already have a detailed idea of another novel, something totally different. It will tell the story of Israel in the early 1960s, and then it will try to discover and show how the Israeli story is perceived from a contemporary American perspective. There will be, of course, a suspenseful plot, but its themes will be, well, ambitious.”
In the exhilarating tradition of I Am Pilgrim comes a sprawling, international high-stakes thriller that pits the intelligence of one man against one of the most successful spies ever to operate against American interests.
When a young Israeli walks into an American embassy and offers to betray his country for money and power, he has no idea that the CIA agent interviewing him is a Russian mole. Years later, that young man has risen in the ranks to become a trusted advisor to Israel’s Prime Minister and throughout his career, he’s been sharing everything he knows with the Kremlin. Now, however, a hint that there may be a traitor in the highest realms of power has slipped out and a top-secret team is put together to hunt for him. The chase leads the team from the streets of Tel Aviv to deep inside the Russian zone and, finally, to the United States, where a most unique spymaster is revealed. The final showdown—between the traitor and the betrayed—can only be resolved by an act of utter treachery that could have far-reaching and devastating consequences.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is “is the guy in the thriller world that people talk to behind the scenes.” (Mark Greaney, New York Times bestselling author). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.