Saving Sophie, Ronald H. Balson, author; Fred Berman, narrator
Because the story goes off in many directions that are all married at the end, but are quite confusing in the beginning, a brief explanation and introduction of the characters is helpful in the interest of organization. In addition, the Middle East history that is presented is largely accurate, but the characters involved in the investigation are not, so hopefully the reader will be inspired to learn more about the Middle East and not jump to conclusions about either side because of the novel.
Although the book begins as a mystery that seems to simply involve an enormous sum of missing money, it soon veers off into the territory of fraud, embezzlement, price-fixing, kidnapping, murder, Arab/Israeli relations, germ warfare, and terrorism. The Middle East conflict is a major part of the story, but it revolves around a scheme that was hatched by an unscrupulous combination of men from assorted backgrounds. It stretched credibility, at times.
A brief summary of some of the characters follows:
1-Jack Sommers is a man of the Jewish faith. He works as an attorney with the firm of Jenkins and Fairchild, Attorneys at Law. He was one of three men in charge of a business deal that has gone awry between a man named Victor Kelsen and his law firm. Jack’s wife recently died. To add to his loss, his daughter was kidnapped shortly after, in an unrelated incident. Now, Sommers has suddenly disappeared.
2-Denny Harrington is the CFO of Kelsen Manufacturing. He worked on the Kelsen deal with Sommers. Harrington is missing, as well.
3-Jim Ellis, of the Midwestern Title Company that was selected to close the Kelsen deal, was killed when hit by a car. All of the major players responsible for sealing the deal seem to have disappeared from the scene, in one way or another.
4-Victor Kelsen is an unscrupulous man of questionable reputation who, among other things, secretly fixes sporting events. He had sold his company, Kelsen Manufacturing to Leland Industries for 300 million dollars and had engaged the firm of Jenkins and Fairchild to oversee the transaction and see to the payment of his outstanding debts so that Kelsen could get the remaining money. However, only one payment to First Bank had so far been released. Another 88 million dollars that was expected to be paid to the Exchange Bank was no longer in escrow and had gone missing. Where did the money go? Kelsen could not receive the final 96 million dollars due to him until both loans had been paid.
5-Liam Taggart is a private investigator. He was engaged to find the missing money. His role in solving the mystery expands exponentially as the novel progresses and he travels to the Middle East involved in both espionage and intrigue!
6-Catherine Lockhart is Liam’s long time girlfriend. An attorney, she had previously been terminated by the firm of Jenkins and Fairchild, but has since been rehired by Walter Jenkins to help prove that the firm is not guilty, regarding the missing money, and therefore not liable for its repayment.
7-Sharon Wilson is the sister of Jack Sommers. She claims to know nothing about his disappearance although he is using the identity of her deceased husband, Eugene Wilson. She becomes a conduit.
8-Alina al-Zahani was the wife of Jack Sommers. A Muslim and a Palestinian, she defied her father to marry Sommers. Her father did not forgive her. She dies of a mysterious illness.
9-Sophie Sommers, age six, is the daughter of Jack and Alina. She was kidnapped by her grandparents, Arif and Lubannah, and brought to their home in Hebron, in the Palestinian Territory. Hebron is a very dangerous city with a violent history.
10-Jamila is Sophie’s friend in Hebron, but for only a short while. She is soon forbidden to play with her when her father discovers that Sophie is part Jew and also an American. He does not want his daughter either exposed to American ideas or corrupted by a Jewess.
11-Dr. Arif al-Zahani, Alina’s father, comes from a long line of anti-Israel instigators. The Israelis suspect him of being a terrorist in an organization called the Sons of Canaan. He is extremely pompous and arrogant.
12-Lubannah al-Zahani is an obedient wife who loves her husband. She is often reminded by him to know her place and behave properly. She will not defy him, although she may threaten to do so. Her culture provides her with few civil rights or power. She loves Sophie, her granddaughter, and does not want to return her to her father, Jack Sommers. Her husband has hidden many things from her which will cause her great pain when they are revealed.
13-Bashir works for Dr. al-Zahani. He loved Alani and now adores her child, Sophie. He does whatever he is asked to do by Dr. al-Zahani. He is both bodyguard and caretaker. He takes care of Sophie’s needs, walking her to school and talking to her teachers. He entertains her and shows her affection. When he discovers that al-Zahani has kept horrific secrets from him, he is forced to make a difficult choice.
14-Marcy Grant had been a close friend of both Alina and Jack and is still a friend of Jack’s and a devotee of Sophie. When Jack is injured, she is his advocate.
15-Abu Hammad is a kindly shop owner in the Muslim Quarter who assists Liam in his investigation. Dr. al-Zahani dislikes Abu because he believes he is a coward because he never joined him in his anti-Israel cause.
16-Kayla Cummings is a member of an Israeli Anti-Terrorism force. She told Liam about Abu Hammad, Dr. Arif al-Zahani and the Sons of Canaan. The Sons of Canaan is a small group of agitators against Israel, of which Zahani is a member. She is trying to stop what she believes will be a massive terrorist attack, with many casualties, that is being secretly planned by this little known group.
17-Darius McCord is a teenaged basketball player involved in sporting events that Kelsen and his Russian mobster friends have fixed. He is the catalyst that connects some of the dots.
18-Dmitri is a Russian mobster who fixed the sporting events with Kelsen.
19-Evgeniy is a thug who works for Dmitri.
20-Yuri is another Russian mobster who was hired by Dmitri.
21-Dani is the young boy sacrificed, against his will, to serve Allah. The Sons of Canaan used him as a final subject in the interest of the experiments that Dr. al-Zahani conducted in his secret lab.
22-Shin Bet, Mossad, and the IDF are Israeli Security agencies.
23-CIA and the State Department are American security agencies.
There are other minor characters, but these are the ones that I felt had an impact or a message to impart that was unique to the novel.
The novel is infused with subtle entries of political correctness regarding sexual preference, employment, gender, serving one’s country, religion, civil rights and romance. Some of the dialogue seems trite and inappropriate, at times, especially the scenes with Sommers talking to his dead wife, but that might be due to the reader’s portrayal of the moment. I thought the novel might have been better had there not been silly romantic scenes which served only to distract me from the main plot which occasionally seemed contrived and very convoluted. I believe that a novel which covers Arab/Israeli/Jewish/American relations should not be trivialized with silly romances. Still, it was a good mystery with a fast and steady pace. The mastermind of the crime committed never expected it to have so many unexpected consequences. All of the loose ends in the story are knitted together in an ending which may or may not be very credible to the reader, so suspend disbelief and simply enjoy how the investigation plays out. To write any more would give away the story, but this information should at least suffice to keep all of the facts of the story straight as you read.
I thought the narrator over-emoted sometimes, making himself a part of the story instead of creating the character. As a result, although I had both an audio and a print copy, I abandoned the audio in favor of the print copy.