The appeal of Michael Benzehabe’s debut novel—featuring Zoe Mousa, an Israeli-born software engineer raised in a small town in Iran—is in its unconventionality. In a genre category inundated by androcentric and Americanocentric storylines, Mousa’s unique perspective is like a breath of fresh air.
Recruited from Mossad’s training program to work for the FBI’s Cyber Division In Los Angeles, Mousa’s primary objective in taking a job with the FBI is to give her two adopted sisters still living in a small Iranian town off the Caspian Sea a better life by relocating them to America. But her dream quickly becomes complicated by ruthless agency politics, grand scale conspiracies, and a looming “cyber war” that could irrevocably alter the global political landscape.
Surrounded by numerous people who could potentially be her enemy, Mousa doesn’t know whom to trust, including Saul Newman, a mild-mannered religion professor who is much more than he seems. As the stakes rise in this looming war, Mousa becomes a target, and as people around her begin dying, she is forced to embark on a bloody journey of self-discovery.
This is not a perfect novel; the plot at times becomes too convoluted, and Mousa’s relationship with Newman comes across as stilted and mechanical. But Benzehabe makes up for these inadequacies by writing a fluid and focused storyline powered by an intelligent and eloquent narrative voice. And as a self-described “unassimilated immigrant,” Mousa’s perception of the United States and its culture is priceless. (“I tried to buy a goat to roast. I am not going to tell you the trouble that caused.”)
Overall, fans of thriller series featuring authentic and fully realized female protagonists—like Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox saga and Lori G. Armstrong’s Mercy Gunderson novels—will find that Mousa’s unique brand of badassery makes for an entertaining and satisfying read.
Also available as an ebook and audio book.