Asaf Ashery is an author, editor, academic and screenwriter. He is also a functioning workaholic, an organic vegetable grower and a dog lover. He lives in a cooperative village in the Jerusalem Mountains with his wife, Yael.

Simantov by Asaf Ashery, Translated by Marganit Weinberger-Rotman

When detective Mazzy Simantov is called up to investigate the case of a missing girl, little does she know it is linked to a series of other mysterious disappearances of women. She is forced to partner with Yariv, her one-time lover and sometimes-colleague, but as the investigation continues, otherworldly clues begin to appear at the crime scenes, including a black feather unlike that of any bird…

As the clues mount, it becomes clear that an apocalypse is looming, as Heaven's secret orders threaten to collide in a head-on war that imperils everyone on Earth. Can Mazzy and Yariv come together to save the world from being torn apart?

This is the English translation from the original Hebrew text, translated by Marganit

CURATOR'S NOTE

The hard-working Asaf Ashery has been an editor, screenwriter and everything else you can think of. This is his first novel in an English translation, a wide-screen and compelling fantasy you would not want to miss. – Lavie Tidhar

 

REVIEWS

  • "Simantovis one of those rare books that combines mystery, Jewish lore and wonderful writing. Asaf Ashery can tell a story that keeps you up at night just to find out what happens next, while never wanting the story to end."

    – Keren Landsman, author of┬áThe Heart of the Circle
  • "The most intelligent supernatural thriller ever written in Hebrew"

    – Ariana Melamed, Haaretz
  • "A keen eye for complex relationships deepens Ashery's solid debut…This moody, intricately constructed procedural's exploration of gendered power struggles operates on levels both mythic and intimate… The accessible prose and nuanced characterization are sure to please urban fantasy readers."

    – Publishers Weekly
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

It was the seventh raven to swoop down since his shift began.

Several were perched on the high fence or hopping on the grass in odd bounding motions between warming themselves in the outward-bound beams of the searchlights.

Jacob would have been OK with this if relieving Yaniv five minutes earlier hadn't meant stepping into the shift from hell.

Never mind that he was assigned to serve with Borislav Sverenko, the most intimidating security guard on the detail; but to be the only religious guard in the unit on the first night of Passover seemed to him more than bad luck or lack of consideration.

He had an uneasy feeling about it.

Noises validated his premonition: the Rottweilers, usually quiet as they patrolled the space between the two fences, were barking loudly; the ravens kept returning in large black flocks and couldn't stop cawing. He was beyond thinking it was all just a coincidence.

It was also the time of year – Passover and the Counting of the Omer.

His father, Shlomo Rosenkrantz, was found on the floor by the entrance to the synagogue, on the eve of the "Great Sabbath," the Sabbath immediately before Passover. His chest was wide open and charred. His heart missing. The pathologist said it was the first time he had ever seen spontaneous combustion, and that the heart must have exploded from all the pressure.

Jacob's terror was threefold. First was a feeling, an instinct. It was in the air, you could almost smell it. You know it's there, but you don't know where it's coming from. No specific details. Nothing to latch onto, and then deny, to calm yourself down.

The second thing was the ridiculous security surrounding the house. He wondered from whom the owner was protecting himself. To reach the mansion at the top of the driveway, you had to pass an exterior fence, two Humvees patrolling it, a strip dotted with incendiary flare mines, an electrified barbed wire fence, jumpy guard dogs, and watchtowers manned by people with above average sniper skills.

The lord of the manor did not like visitors.

Jacob and Borislav sat a few yards from the gate, at the end of the access road to the manor, in a booth of bulletproof glass dubbed "The Aquarium." In front of them was a vehicle barrier.

The third thing was that Jacob suspected Borislav was anxious.

Standing nearly seven feet tall, Borislav weighed 220 proportionately distributed pounds. Jacob estimated that the thickest part of his thigh was thinner than Borislav's neck.

The Russian giant always looked like a bull in the ring: restrained, a bit apathetic, but liable to charge at any moment. Borislav was from the Ukraine, but everyone called him "The Russian". He had seen action as a commando in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Two weeks earlier, on a shift, Borislav told Jacob in a rare moment of candor that once, in Afghanistan, he had lain for several days in the snow, at the foot of a mountain, his cheek pressed into his rifle butt, until he found the perfect moment to fire at someone's head. It was the only time he had killed a man without looking him in the eye.

Tonight, for the first time since Jacob had met the giant, Borislav appeared worried, possibly even frightened.

When scary things get scared, it's never a good sign.

Jacob assumed that tonight, too, the conversation would be wanting, so he had brought along a book. Taking it out of his backpack, he let his wandering eyes rest for two seconds on the face of his Aquarium buddy.

Apparently, Borislav was not picked for the job for his physical frame alone but also for his facility with language. Nobody could better imply the subtext, "Any particular reason you're gawking at me like this?" by asking the question, "What's that book about?"

"It's by S. Yizhar. About his experience in the Yom Kippur War."

"Isn't that a Jewish holiday?"

"Yes, but there was also a war in 1973."

As often, when talking to new immigrants, he found himself simplifying phrases, as if talking to a child, not sure if he was doing his interlocutor a favor by dumbing things down.

"How many died in it?"

"Twenty-five hundred, maybe more."

His companion's nostrils flared disdainfully, but he kept quiet. Jacob felt a little resentful that the national trauma did not even register with Borislav.

"What?"

"It's no big deal, really."

"What are you talking about?"

"Look, you think on a small scale. You're spoiled. In Russia, in Stalingrad, how many died? A hundred thousand people. It didn't stop Russia from electing Khrushchev."

"What's Khrushchev got to do with it?"

"He was, what d'you call it, political commissar there."

Jacob resorted to pathos to explain the impact of the '73 war.

"We're a small country, not many people. We thought it was the destruction of the Third Temple…"

"I'm going to see why the dogs are barking." Borislav cut him short.

He extricated himself from the glass booth, bending his big frame to pass under the barrier.

His powerful Maglite shone a white beam into the night, exposing the flock of ravens crowding the fences and the lawn. As Borislav made his way to the exterior fence, the birds took to the air, but, after a short whirl, returned to the same spot.

Jacob had read five pages of his book when the cabin door opened and the Ukrainian giant was back inside, a worried expression on his face. From somewhere else on the perimeter, searchlights were probing the sky.

Jacob thought he heard horses neighing and hooves galloping, but he was embarrassed to ask Borislav if he had too. In between the beams crisscrossing the starlit sky, a bright, gleaming rectangle suddenly appeared, descending to earth.

"Want to make a wish?" Jacob joked nervously.

"A million year-old star falls, and all you can think of is what's in it for you."

The rectangle slowed its descent and touched down lightly, then scooted toward the fences. Tiny dark crescents dropped from the sky, pounding on the roof and sides of the cabin. A horrible stench filled the air. Hundreds of ravens rose at once, flapping their wings noisily.

They rushed to get their weapons. Borislav clicked off the safety; Jacob did the same and followed him outside.

The ground was covered with crushed carob, which seemed to be the source of the terrible stench.

The fiery rectangle continued its progress on the ground, coming to a halt a few yards from the exterior fence. In the distance, Jacob could see a chariot of fire led by four horses.

The chariot was burning but was not consumed. Sparks flew, the sound of crackling wood came from its spokes, but they did not crumble.

Its chassis was enveloped in smoke, streams of electric energy and blazing, bluish light. The horses looked like nothing on earth. Red flashes lit up their eyes; they whinnied and stomped, crushing embers that dropped from their hooves. A dark human figure with long hair stepped down from the chariot, patted the first horse pleasantly and made his way to the fence using a long wooden staff.

Jacob was conflicted: he wanted to flee; adrenaline flooded his veins, but apparently his blood, which was supposed to set his muscles into motion, had turned viscous. He froze in his tracks and watched in horror the scene unfolding before his eyes.

Weapons rattled all around them, but the figure just kept plodding ahead.

A shot rang out, and the figure raised his walking stick.

The two Humvees were thrown in the air by a huge explosion, landing on their sides in flames. One of the drivers, set alight, crawled out of the wreckage and tried to roll in the dust. His screams were drowned out by the noise of shattered glass as the watchtowers collapsed, the guards tossed out like popcorn from a lidless pan. Having slipped their leashes and fled yelping into the night, the dogs triggered the mines and incendiary flares shot into the air with such intensity that Jacob and Borislav had to squeeze their eyes shut. Silence descended on the compound.

The figure in the black robe, with flowing hair and holding a gnarled, wooden staff cut from an almond tree was climbing the slope toward them.

As it grew closer, they could make out, by the light of the flares, the tangled hair and unshaven face of an old man. His robe was in tatters and had seen better days. A ram's horn and a slaughterer's blade were stuck in the broad sash around his waist.

His eyes gleamed and he hummed a marching song in a deep and sonorous tone.

For a split second, through the horror that gripped him, Jacob thought he recognized the tune.

Borislav was the first to recover. He screamed a loud, guttural battle cry and opened fire. The old man, however, did not even flinch. He closed the distance, and with a dexterous motion whipped out his slaughterer's knife slicing Borislav in two at the waist. The Ukrainian looked surprised but didn't utter a sound as his two halves crumpled to the ground. Only a few yards separated the mysterious figure from the main gate. A few yards and Jacob.

Time stood still. He heard the carobs squishing under the soles of the old man's leather sandals. A smile appeared on the man's face, the kind reserved for long-awaited encounters.

Jacob feared his heart would explode; his hands trembled, and he dropped his weapon.

The traffic barrier rose, its hinges groaning in protest. The old man advanced toward Jacob, whose pants now bore a big, dark stain, as a puddle of urine gathered at his feet. His face was ashen, and he started as the old man stopped in front of him and rummaged through a pocket in his cloak. The man's face lit up when, after a few eternal seconds, he found what he was looking for: a small parcel wrapped in a gray rag. He held the cloth by its edges and motioned to Jacob to stretch out his hands. Jacob obeyed, and the old man placed the clammy bundle in them like an offering.

Animatedly, his thick crow-like voice began to recite a verse.

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."

Jacob opened the package, which, to his utter astonishment, contained a bleeding, beating human heart.

A second before Elijah's hand had ripped open his ribcage to tear out his heart, Jacob recognized the melody that heralded his death.

The lord of the manor, sitting in his parlor in the big house, looked out of the window and smiled disdainfully at the spectacle of blazing flames, explosions, and screams, like a child curiously watching ants fight a flood threatening to destroy their nest.

Throughout the long years he spent on earth, Shamhazai knew that one day the silence would be broken. Elijah now reached the top of the hill and knocked on the door with his almond-tree staff.