Review: Forbidden Love in St. Petersburg by Mishka Ben-David

Forbidden Love in St. Petersburg by Mishka Ben-David
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Pages: 432
Source: book provided by the publisher for review



Yogev Ben-Ari has been sent to St. Petersburg by the Mossad, ostensibly to network and set up business connections. His life is solitary, ordered, and lonely—until he meets Anna. Neither is quite what they seem to be, but while her identity may be mysterious, there is no doubt about the love they feel for each other.

The affair, impassioned as it is, is not part of the Mossad plan. The agency must hatch a dark scheme to drive the lovers apart. So what began as a quiet, solitary mission becomes a perilous exercise in survival, and Ben-Ari has no time to discover the truth about Anna’s identity before his employers act. Amid the shadowy manipulations of the secret services, the anguished agent finds himself at an impossible crossroads.

Written with the masterful skill of a seasoned novelist, and bringing to bear his years of experience as a Mossad agent himself, Ben-David once again delivers a powerful look into the mysterious Israeli intelligence agency in this action-packed page turner.


Review:  Yogev Ben-Ari, a member of the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency, is in St. Petersburg, Russia to establish a network basis and make connections. After his occupation destroyed his first marriage, he has now resigned himself to living a solitary life, with his work taking up most of his time and attention. But, quite unexpectedly, he meets Anna, a vivacious woman, his own age, who quickly becomes very important to him. But, he must clear his involvement with her with his superiors, who are less than thrilled by this development.  Will the agency allow the romance to continue, or will they pull out all the stops to end their relationship?

I will admit spy novels or secret intelligence based thrillers are hit and miss with me. Sometimes, the details can be so subtle and the plots so complex, I have a hard time keeping up with it and lose interest. But, at other times, I get very involved with the plot and find these types of books to be the most intelligent and suspenseful novels ever written.

I was hoping this book would fall into the latter category, and after reading the synopsis, which promised me an action packed page turner, I had high hopes for this story.

I will confess, up front, that when I think of intelligence agencies, the first thing that comes to my mind, as an American, is the CIA, or maybe the KGB. I actually did an internet search to better understand what the Mossad actually did.   So, because the setting falls into the ‘cultural’ category for me, this novel was like a learning experience, and Yogev’s work was of great interest to me.

However, as interesting as the work of the Mossad is, with the authentic feel of the missions, the action did not pick up until the last quarter of the book. The first part of the book details Yogev’s first love, marriage, and the couple’s failure to conceive a child, a situation that eventually puts such a strain on the marriage, the couple winds up growing apart. But, the elephant in the room, during the marriage, is Yogev’s assignments, which takes him away from home frequently, and the nature of his work eventually drives the final nail in the coffin of his marriage.

This section goes into such detail, and takes up so much space in the novel, that it read more like a family drama than a thriller. It is important to know what brought Yogev to this juncture in his life, but, entirely too much time was spent on this segment, and could be a real buzz kill for those wishing for more suspense and action.

Having said that, the last quarter of the book is very complex, tense, and absorbing, moving at that agonizingly slow pace many spy thrillers employ, creating an unbearable element of suspense.

But, at the heart of the matter is the love story between Yogev, (Paul) and Anna, two pawns who fall unwittingly into a clever trap, blindsided by their intense feelings for each other, and suffering horrible consequences, with a heart wrenching fallout that leaves them both devastated.

But, as those of us who are regular readers of romance can tell you, there is nothing, but nothing that can deter the power of love, not even powerful governments and secret intelligence agencies, despite their best efforts.

This is a compelling novel on many fronts, and does eventually deliver the goods in the suspense department, but the first part of the book really needed to be trimmed down, in order to increase the pace and keep the reader from losing interest before they got to the really good part. So, you will need some patience if you are expecting a fast paced thriller, but in the end it’s worth the wait.

I believe fans of spy and espionage thrillers will really like this book, and while this is certainly NOT a romance novel, there is most definitely a love story here, which means this novel can certainly appeal to a wider audience.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel and appreciated the change of pace, locations and the human interest element which was the glue that held it all together, and is why the conclusion left me with a feeling of relief, satisfaction, and hope.