The Damascus Cover was first published in 1977, was translated into seven foreign languages and officially banned from the Eastern European market. It was out of print for the last 3 decades and now is rereleased in digital format as well as in paperback. It is the first book by Kaplan that I have read and I will certainly be looking for the next two in the series as well as the movie based on this one which is set to be released this year because this book defines thriller.
Major Ari Ben-Sion of the Mossad Haelion Lemodiin Ubitachon has more than one passport. He has to because he’s a spy. The passport he uses on his missions says he’s Hans Hoffmann, “import-export magnate, ex-Nazi”. He speaks four different languages with no trace of an accent; he could be a native of England, Germany, France or Argentina — it was hard to pin down. He had been in Dachau prison but not as a guard. There’s a dream that haunts him and it’s always in German.
Dov Elon is another Israeli espionage agent. Captured in Damascus, the young man is giving away nothing no matter what torture they apply and Suleiman Sarraj is an expert at torture. Sarraj is determined to learn the identity of Operative 66, a sleeper agent highly placed in the Damascus power base.
When Hoffman/Ben-Sion is recalled from Cyprus and given a desk job in Jerusalem, he’s slightly miffed. At 55, he doesn’t feel he’s passed his prime although he has noticed he’s slipped a little. His marriage is over and the loneliness of his chosen career is catching up with him. He’s not as sharp as he used to be, knows just how much he can drink but gets there more than he used to, doesn’t know that his cover is blown, and worse, has no idea that he’s responsible for the capture of his young friend, Dov Elon. When the Colonel dangles a prospective mission just out of Ben-Sion’s reach, Ari doesn’t realize he’s being set up — the Colonel expects Ari to talk him into letting him go to Damascus. It will be his final mission.
This is an intricate, finely honed plot with a main character who has no idea who he can trust. The descriptions of the settings in both Syria and Israel are evocative — you can imagine the sights, the sounds, and the smells, see the routes being taken, a feel the pressure of the crowds in the bazaar and the emptiness of the nighttime countryside. You, too, can’t tell who Ari can trust and who he can’t. Betrayed on all sides and with no real understanding of the mission, he stumbles along with a false bravado, misplaced confidences, and only his personal loyalty and integrity to his cause to see him through to its completion. The ending will be a total surprise to him as well as to the reader. * * * * *