Israeli scholar D.A. Mishani’s first novel, The Missing File, launches a series featuring an Israeli detective, Avraham Avraham.
Where did the idea for the plot come from?
I always knew the first Avraham case would be a missing-persons case, maybe because it is the only kind of investigation that can theoretically have a true “happy ending.” Most literary cases start with a body, or another crime that has been already committed, and by the end of the book, the murderer is found. In a missing-persons case, there’s always the slight chance that no crime has been committed at all, and that by the end of the novel there will be no bodies, no death. The novel’s plot is in fact a combination of this fantasy of mine and a true story that I read a few years ago in the papers, about a man who wrote horrible letters to families who lost their children in terrible circumstances. Something about this story haunted me.
What about the mystery genre appeals to you?
Of all literary forms that emerged in modernity, the detective novel is the most fascinating one, in terms of form and content. It deals with the most political and yet intimate issues of modern life—from violence to urban existence, from social control to self-knowledge. It’s not by chance that some of the greatest modern writers explored the genre—Borges, for example—and I think that some of the most experimental and innovative literary works throughout the 20th century are crime novels, from Conan Doyle and Christie through Simenon and Chandler and until Sjöwall and Wahlöö, or Henning Mankell. I think that writing in a genre enabled me to write about myself in a way that is veiled. I’m not a detective, so no one will assume that the novel is autobiographical—but I think it’s more autobiographical than I would like to think.
You’ve referred to detective fiction being about people at work. Can you expand on that?
I always fantasized about writing on work, people at work. If you think about it, we spend most of our lives working, but literature doesn’t always take it into account. The detective novel is a literary form dedicated to the description of work.
You’re writing a Ph.D. thesis on the genre. What’s it about?
That all the literary detectives are wrong, or that every detective novel can be read in two ways: the first “with the detective,” accepting his solution of the crime; and the second “against the detective,” proving the true solution is completely different than his. Every detective novel has, if you will, a hidden mystery plot that tells a different story from the one on the novel’s surface.