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Book Review

Searching For Ami by John O'Keefe

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Publisher: Red Rock Press, paperback

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Harry Katz moved to the balcony to take the call. Far below, drifting into sight through scatered wisps of valley mist, a small alpine village awakened. Tendrils of white smoke rise from chimneys silhouetted in the weak dawn sun. He looked at the screen of his iPhone. It registered 972 2- familiar Israel and Jerusalme prefixes – followed by a landline number. He pressed the active button.

Thus begins the debut novel by Dublin-based GP John O’Keeffe, a taut 234-page thriller which has certain echoes of the brilliant Liam Neeson movie, Taken. An American woman Rachel and her daughter Ami become unwitting victims in a guerilla attack on a Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights.

Rachel is murdered and daughter Amy disappears. Intelligence officer Harry Katz is convinced that his daughter is still alive somewhere.

To try and establish his daughter's whereabouts, he sets off to Southern Lebanon, fighting the almost overwhelming sense of grief and desolation, as he follows the tenuous leads. He moves stoically and painstakingly on to Zurich and then to the German city of Ulm, while trying to fight the anxiety and fear that bedevils his long-shot quest.

The climax of this riveting story takes place on the streets of Dublin and the manner in which O’Keeffe takes you there in crisply-evolving narrative stages is decidedly impressive. The author has an astute understanding of what to leave in and to leave out in this suspenseful yarn, and he has, too, an uncannilly fresh ear for convincing dialogue. "Powerful, unsettling, totally believable, " enthuses another medical doctor-turned thriller writer, Paul Carson about O'Keeffe's first crime novel.

The depiction of Katz, plunging through waves of depression and trying to stay afloat in currents of despair, is particularly memorable and you do feel for him and his seemingly benighted search for his daughter. The fluid narrative gift on display augurs well for future novels from John O’Keeffe, and not necessarily in the crime genre.

It should also be said his much-travelled protagonist is comfortingly a man of taste. He doesn’t stick Richard Clayderman or any such trite muzak on his car player. A humble cassette tape of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert is sufficient balm for the beleagured soul of Katz. Those trilling ripples of improvised piano makes our man slow the car to a crawl, as he drives through Israel, calming himself down and refusing to beat himself up any longer. He drove along quietly, numbly listening to the music, quietly promising his dead wife he would find her daughter.

Paddy Kehoe

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