Book: “Gazelle in the Shadows” by Michelle Peach
Publishing Info: Michelle Peach, April 2018
Where Did I Get This Book: I was given a copy by Book Publicity Services
Book Description: In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easy slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police.
Review: Thank you to Book Publicity Services for sending me a copy of this book!
I have a distinct memory of being a child and my parents watching “The Hunt for Red October” in the family room. While I normally liked to try and watch whatever movie my parents were watching at the time (which led to them chasing me out of the room on more than one occasion), I remember feeling one distinct thing as they watched that movie: “This is boring”. And I can tell you, with a couple exceptions to this rule, in general I am not a huge fan of spy and espionage fiction and non-fiction. But I can be convinced to be a bit more open and to try new things, and that is why I said ‘yes’ to reading and reviewing “Gazelle in the Shadows”. For one, Syria has been at the center of many world conflicts and current events as of late, so I figured that reading up on it, albeit a fictionalized account set a couple decades ago, may do me some good. It definitely helped that the author, Michelle Peach, has experience as a diplomat and writer in this part of the world, as I figured that she knew what she would be talking about. So I dove in, hoping that I’d be able to break my apathy towards novels like this at least a little bit. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work.
But first I want to start with what I did like about “Gazelle in the Shadows”. I found our protagonist, Elizabeth, to be a pretty relatable character throughout the narrative. I completely bought her passion for her studies in Arabic language and cultures, and I totally believed that she would want to pursue furthering her education in Syria in spite of the hesitations that her family had. I also found her character development to be pretty interesting and realistic, and thought that her change from wide eyed student to hardened survivor to be a narrative that was compelling. I also very much enjoyed Peach’s descriptions of various aspects of life in Syria, be it the bustling market squares, or the kind and strong people that Elizabeth met along the way (I particularly liked Fatima, a friend that Elizabeth confided in for a share of the story). I did get the sense that Peach had knowledge about the culture and the time frame that the story was working within, which makes sense given her background.
But there were also things in this story that didn’t quite work for me. First was the writing. At times the dialogue felt a little bit stilted, and while there were absolutely moments where descriptions and imagery flowed and worked, there were other moments that felt choppy. It wasn’t something that completely took me out of the story as I read it, but it did give me moments of pause before moving on. I also had a hard time with some of the characterizations of the non-Western characters within the narrative. Outside of Fatima, the Arab and Syrian characters ended up being either unexplored, or devious and untrustworthy in their intentions. Some ended up being flat out demonized, and while I understand that within the time and location that this story was taking place there certainly would be people who had ban intentions, I wasn’t comfortable with the theme of ‘Western People Saving Other Western People From The Dysfunctional Middle East”. It’s the same hesitations I’ve had with movies like “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” (in spite of enjoying them for the most part), and why I haven’t been able to watch “Homeland”. And at the end of the day, it has the same issue that I had with “Hunt for Red October”: this really isn’t my genre. I think that people who do like espionage thrillers would have more things to like about “Gazelle in the Shadows”, but for someone like me it’s not really my cup of tea.
“Gazelle in the Shadows” had it’s ups and downs for me, but I think that people who like espionage thrillers would find a fair amount to like about it. I would tell people to be mindful about the optics of it, but Elizabeth is an interesting protagonist that may stand out from others in the genre.
Rating 6: While the descriptions were beautiful and the author has clear knowledge on the subject, the writing was a little clunky, espionage stories and I don’t mesh well, and some of the portrayals of the various characters made me uneasy.
“Gazelle in the Shadows” isn’t listed on WorldCat, but HERE is a link to it’s Amazon page.