Review: Simantov by Asaf Ashery

translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman

original publication (in Hebrew): 2020

first English edition: 2020, Angry Robot

grab a copy here or through your local independent bookstore or library

One of the fascinating things about contemporary Hebrew SFT is that it includes a subset of novels that smash together the detective genre and biblical themes. Books like Ofir Touche Gafla’s The World of the End, Nava Semel’s Isra Isle, Shimon Adaf’s Lost Detective Trilogy, and Asaf Ashery’s Simantov (the subject of today’s review) feature detectives solving crimes against an otherworldly backdrop. Given that Israel is a highly contested place claimed by the world’s three major religions, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that biblical themes find their way into Israeli literature. The detective angle, though, underscores the theme of “revelation,” in the sense of uncovering the truth and understanding what God expects of humans.

Simantov focuses on a more obscure biblical story–that of Lilith, who was created before Eve to be Adam’s partner. Her refusal to follow orders led to her exile from the Garden of Eden; thus Eve’s creation. Since then, a group of women descended from Lilith have established themselves on Earth as a major force in women’s rights around the world. As one of the characters in the novel explains, it is because of these women that all women have been able to enter any field they choose and find success in their work.

These descendants of Lilith, though, suddenly find themselves threatened by another group–the Nephilim. These are giant fallen angels who are trying to open the gates of Heaven. If that were to happen, the world as we know it would end. One by one, a daughter of Lilith is kidnapped by the Nephilim, since their sacrifice will accomplish the angels’ goal. It is up to two detectives–Chief Inspector Yariv Biton and his ex-lover Mazzy Simantov, who runs the Soothsayer Unit of police diviners–to find the women and stop the Nephilim.

Complicating matters is the fact that Mazzy’s mother, Rachel, has strong divining powers and an even stronger personality. Though she and Mazzy are somewhat estranged, Rachel jumps into the investigation, not just to help find the missing women, but also to protect her daughter, whom she knows is in danger, since the Nephilim are powerful and ruthless.

What ensues is a story about a race against time as the various members of the Soothsayer Unit use their powers to figure out how to stop the fallen angels. Eventually, the soothsayers figure out the names of the Nephilim, which is the only way to stop them from opening the gates of Heaven.

Marganit Weinberger-Rotman’s translation is smooth and very readable, but the story itself was lackluster and the characters were somewhat flat. Nonetheless, Ashery’s blending of detective fiction and biblical themes offers readers an interesting perspective on this growing subgenre of Hebrew literature.

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