cover image The Project

The Project

Zev Chafets, Ze'ev Chafets. Warner Books, $23.5 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-446-51886-4

Even though it deals with such heavy-weight issues as the threat of nuclear war in the Middle East and Israel's meddling in an American election, this new thriller by Chafets (Inherit the Mob) has a cozy, downhome (hamische, as they say in Yiddish) quality, a welcome rarity in the current marketplace of blood and techno-thunder. There's also a healthy dash of sly insider's humor (Chafetz, now a columnist for the Jerusalem Report, worked as a press officer for Prime Minister Menachem Begin). It's 2000, and Dewey Goldberg, America's first Jewish president, sits uneasily in the White House--having been elevated from Speaker of the House to chief executive 11 months earlier in the wake of a boating accident that killed both the president and the veep. Goldberg seems to have a good chance at winning a full term, until word leaks out that the enigmatic Israeli prime minister, Elihu Barzel, is pressuring American Jews to support the Republican candidate, right-wing Southern populist Earl Childes. Goldberg asks his old college friend Charlie Walker, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, to find out why. Walker digs up some frightening facts about Barzel's past and his involvement in a shadowy military operation called The Project, which has something to do with the Armageddon being predicted for the year 2001 by Reverend Bobby Silas, a powerful American Christian militant. The plot's weighty bones don't stop Chafetz from animating a large and extremely colorful cast of minor characters, or from spreading his tart comments on politics and religion like horseradish on gefilte fish. (Apr.)