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(07/28/2006) Send this articlePrint this Article Send this articleSend this article
Chasing Bad Guys
Sandee Brawarsky - Jewish Week Book Critic
In “The Red Syndrome,” protagonist Dan Gordon investigates international money laundering, bioterrorism and espionage for the CIA.

Jet lag launched Haggai Carmon into his career as an author. The international lawyer found himself in a small, unheated hotel room in a remote country he won’t identify. He was on U.S. government assignment collecting intelligence on a violent criminal organization, but his security cover had been blown, and he was advised by Interpol not to leave his hotel room. Tired, but too scared to sleep, Carmon sat at a child-sized desk with his laptop computer and spun 100 pages of a thriller based on but disguising his experiences.

Those first 100 pages became the basis for “Triple Identity,” the first in a series of three thrillers featuring Dan Gordon, a lawyer and former Mossad agent working for the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I always finish what I start,” Carmon, 61, tells The Jewish Week in an interview in his Midtown law office.

Published last year, “Triple Identity” was recently reissued in paperback. Meanwhile, his latest novel, “The Red Syndrome,” was published this month (Steerforth Press) and the third book in the ongoing series, “Chameleon,” will be published next year.

The foreword to the first book is written anonymously by a retired member of the Mossad’s top management, who quotes a line from Proverbs as the organization’s motto, “For by deception thou shalt make thy war,” emphasizing the war of minds, not weapons. Knesset member Efraim Sneh pens the foreword to “The Red Syndrome.”

“The Red Syndrome” involves Dan Gordon in an international money-laundering case that radiates from some Russian mobsters in Brooklyn. His investigations unravel a much larger case than his boss at the Justice Department imagined, one involving international bioterrorism, with the U.S. threatened by an Iranian-based group called the Slaves of Allah. The case is assigned to the CIA, and Gordon — always the independent-minded thinker and analyst — joins a multi-agency team on the terrorists’ trail.

The novel is full of layers of espionage, betrayal, a touch of romance, blackmail, kidnapping, high-tech tools and quick thinking. The reader follows the case from Gordon’s point of view, sensing his suspicions, but Gordon stays out ahead of the reader.

Carmon has mastered his genre well, creating an intriguing, suspenseful, smart plot that makes for timely and compelling summer reading. At a time of much upheaval in the world, Carmon is clear about good and evil.

“The forces of evil are relentless,” Carmon says, admitting that he writes fiction with a pro-democracy, pro-Israel message. “The world, in particular the Jewish people, should not be indifferent. I always suggest believing the enemy. In 1923, Hitler outlined what he was going to do and nobody believed him. The Iranian prime minister says that he wants to wipe Israel off of the map. We should believe him and be ready.

“Our worst enemy is complacency,” Carmon says.

Carmon’s own investigations have involved many countries, sometimes up to 20, and many millions, sometimes a billion, dollars. He says that his supervisors have told him that whenever he touches a case it suddenly becomes interesting, that some serious matters touching on national security, or sometimes mega-fraud, are discovered.

The lawyer evades most questions about similarities between himself and his character, although at times they sound like doubles. Both state unequivocally that they never give up.

“The books are inspired by my work, but it’s not real. Some of it happened, and I changed names and places,” he says. Carmon is quick to point out that he “never served in the Mossad. Dan Gordon did.”

“Dan Gordon was trained in the Mossad to think in a certain way. In law school, I too was trained to think in a certain way. I remember talking with government agents who were surprised that I knew to look under a certain stone. I don’t know whether it’s intuition, training or experience.”

“In life, things are never as they seem,” he says.

He points out that his books have many Jewish elements and values. Benny Friedman, the character who heads the international office of the Mossad, is an Orthodox Jew who, “at the end of the day, comes out as the smartest of them all.”

“I don’t write crime stories. I write about historical events that I was personally involved with. This is not routine police work. Not Ellery Queen, not Agatha Christie. I write from the perspective of an insider,” Carmon says.

Carmon’s father was a writer, or rather he was a farm hand turned banker, who was born in Belarus and eventually served as president of a small bank in Israel. Writing was something he did on the side. At the age of 57, he published his first book and subsequently wrote several others. The first book was published on the eve of Haggai’s bar mitzvah, dedicated to him, and Haggai republished the book on his father’s 100th birthday, when his oldest son became a bar mitzvah. The elder Carmon’s books were about Eastern wisdom, Chinese poetry, short stories and fables.

Carmon grew up amid privilege in Tel Aviv. After high school, he served in the Israeli Air Force, and was in active combat during wartime. He graduated from Tel Aviv University, studying political science in the developing world. After completing law school, he became active politically in Israel, serving as unpaid adviser to Shimon Peres, as he pursued his career in international law. He became known as a problem solver.

In 1985, Carmon began working for the United States Department of Justice, first on matters related to the litigation of civil cases in Israel, and later on other issues related to international asset recovery.

At a book party earlier this month in Washington, co-hosted by Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, Carmon’s former supervisor David Epstein, the former director of the office of foreign litigation at the U.S. Department of Justice, spoke. Epstein and Carmon worked together for 18 years, and Epstein acknowledged that he was the basis for the fictional David Stone, director of the office of international asset recovery and money laundering. Epstein said that what went on in the field was often “stranger than fiction.”

Carmon has faced frequent threats and tells a story of the one instance when he was assaulted on the job. He was beaten up pretty badly after obtaining bank documents in an unnamed Central European country. Soaked in blood, he knew he had to leave the country so he went directly to the airport and caught a flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, quickly explaining to airline agents that he had been in a car accident and that the other guy was seriously hurt.

These days, his work schedule remains hectic, but he no longer gets involved in the kind of international hands-on investigations he used to do, in part, because now that he has written these books — with his photo on the book jacket — it would be difficult for him to work undercover.

He explains that this was a consideration in his decision to write fiction, but, as he says, “I thought I had something to say that’s more important than the actual work that I do.” The fourth and fifth volumes in the series are in the works.

Most of his writing is done on long plane rides — he does frequent international travel — and in the early mornings when he’s at his home in Israel. Carmon and his wife, the parents of five children, also live on Long Island, place unnamed. n

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