on 31 December 2014
Hmm. A harsh rating. Silva writes well for the genre and, for an American writer, evokes European settings faultlessly. The story too isn't that bad. But as it twists and turns there are too many points where credibility is stretched beyond breaking point. The amount of Israeli resource devoted to finding a British citizen are beyond extraordinary. And to be in the English girl's council house in, er, Basildon at precisely the moment the KGB come to call is a coincidence too far but artificiallynecessary only in order for the story to proceed to Moscow.
And the characters are too pat. The Corsican don, the English hitman living in relative obscurity in Corsica, the plant in the Russian oil company - yes, secret services plant agents but the ease and rapidity with which this is achieved defies the laws of nature.
And then there's the occasional jarring detail that isn't quite right. There aren't first class flights between London and Marseilles. Nor do German passports get stamped at Heathrow. And no immigration officer welcomes you to Great Britain. To London possibly, to UK maybe, probably not at all actually. But certainly not to GB. Small points but these all occurred on one page and there's a few of them through the book. Found it unlikely that a 10 Downing Street press secretary would get their first wind of a story from a home-delivered first edition.
The charmed life of Allon continues. It's.a better yarn than many in the genre. Much of the spycraft rings true. But overall it lacked plausibility at the point the Russians took over from the French mafia.
on 10 August 2013
In the thirteenth thriller in the Gabriel Allon series, Silva has the art restorer/supposedly retired spy-assassin involved in investigating the kidnapping of a young woman who is a rising star in Britain's governing party -- and who is also to mistress of the Prime Minister. This investigation, which Allon is quietly handling as a personal favor to the Prime Minister in order to try to avoid a scandal that could destroy his career, leads Allon, and eventually his usual team of Israeli Intelligence operatives, on a mission that will take them to Marseilles, Provence, London and,finally, to Moscow. Typical in all books in this series, Allon and his team devise intricate, down-to-the minute plans laden with risk throughout the complex, multi-layered mission. Also reminiscent of most books in this series, the plot in Silva's The English Girl seems to be ripped from today's newspaper headlines. And, of course, consistent in a Silva thriller, his latest book is one of slow-building but non-stop tension and suspense that will likely make the reader anxious to turn the pages to find out what happens next.
In the absolute, I enjoyed The English Girl very much and consider it, as I have all of the other books featuring Gabriel Allon, to be very engrossing, well-researched and well-written. However, on a comparative basis, while I enjoyed The English Girl, my level of enjoyment was somewhat lower than in some of the earlier books in this series. In small part, this is due to the action that occurs being not quite as intense. The larger factor contributing to my comparative drop in enjoyment is that, after reading all thirteen Gabriel Allon books, the successful formula on which Silva has based his series is "showing some age lines" and the development of his main and key supporting characters need some freshening up. Silva obviously feels the same, as he strongly leads his readers to believe in The English Girl that he has important changes planned for Gabriel Allon (as well as for some other characters often part of this series) in his next book.
Despite these comparative criticisms, I still consider Silva to be the "gold standard" of thriller writers -- although the quality of the gold may now have depreciated a bit from 18k to 14k. For me, there has never been a risk involved in reading a Silva book, with the only unknown being whether the book will be very good or excellent.
on 28 December 2014
Israeli superspy Gabriel Allon is on loan to the British Prime Minister to discreetly hndle negotiations with the mystery man who has kidnapped a parliamentary assistant on holiday in Corsica. The kidnapper knows - and has a video to prove it - that Madeline Hart is the PM's mistress. A career, as well as a life, is being ransomed for ten million euros.
Daniel Silva's spy stories always have a cracking pace. This one moves from Tel Aviv to Corsica and Provence, with several visits to Downing Street. The fictitious prime minister doesn't particularly resemble any recent resident of Number Ten, although his Machiavellian chief-of-staff, fond of junketing on Russian oligarchs' yachts, has a faintly familiar ring.
After the dramatic resolution of the ransom handover, Gabriel sets out to hunt down the mysterious kidnapper, helped only by an ex-SAS soldier whose retirement consists of doing dirty work for an ancient Corsican Mafia Don. The second half of the book moves more slowly and reads like a John Le Carre, with diplomatic manoeuvres and covert intelligence operations being employed to locate the man behind the kidnapping. Allon meets an old ally from the East and also an old enemy. The final game-play involves a pleasing if somewhat implausible "sting". And the ending produces a nice surprise.
Gabriel's previous missions have involved tracking down Bin Laden-league Arabic terrorists. THE ENGLISH GIRL has a slightly low-key feel to it, and I'm probably not the only reader to wonder why Facial Recognition software was not used to identify the kidnapper much earlier. Stylistically speaking Daniel Silva is arguably the best thriller writer since Peter O'Donnell (creator of Modesty Blaise), who I always thought was at least one notch above Ian Fleming. With vividly evoked locations and colourful characters - a Gabriel Allon thriller always delivers the goods.
[Reviewer is the author of SHAIKH-DOWN]
This is the second Silva novel I have read, and it is better than the first, "The English Assassin," though the title character of that novel makes a reappearance here as Gabriel Allon's helper in the attempted rescue of a young English woman seized by kidnappers who demand twenty million euros or they will reveal the young woman's affair with the Prime Minister, Jonathan Lancaster. The young woman, Madeline Hart, had been an up-and-coming star in the ruling party (Conservative, though not identified as such except by Baroness Thatcher's portrait in a room an 10 Downing Street). Allon is, of course, a spy working for Israeli Intelligence, and an art-restorer on the side (a very good one, apparently), who is brought into this case by an old friend, Gerald Seymour, who works in British Intelligence and who knows Gabriel's skills . . . and his discretion.
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll just make some general comments. First, there's an unusual double plot structure here -- unusual in the sense that double plots usually run simultaneously, but in this case, they run sequentially, so that it's almost as if you get a story and its sequel in one novel. The action of the first takes place in Corsica and France. The action of the second is mainly in London and Moscow. In both halves of the book, there are brief excursions to Israel, but in neither story is a danger posed to Israel. As Gabriel makes clear, when seeking permission from his Israeli superiors to undertake what he does in the second story, his motives there are personal. They are personal for two reasons -- the first relates to some unsatisfactory occurrences in the first story which in turn trigger memories of traumatic events even earlier in Gabriel's life.
I think it's also fair to say that both stories are about "sting" operations, and suspense is built very effectively in both. I don't think it's giving too much away to say that Gabriel's learning that the Russians were involved in the kidnapping IS a surprise: up to that point, his assumption had been, given the ransom size, that this was purely a for-profit transaction. It turns out that that both is and isn't the case. There is a cast of quite vivid typical thriller characters, many of whom end up dead. There is a very nasty Russian piece of work that Gabriel has to contend with, while the malefactors that we see in the first story are a bit less imposing. And despite Silva's claim in an "Author's Note at the end that no resemblance is intended to any real person, the oft-referred-to Russian leader is a dead ringer for Vladimir Putin.
I have some quibbles. In a scene near the end, a lot of loose ends are tied up in a long statement by one of the bad guys. We need to hear that information, but it's implausible that it would have come from this particular character. Further, Allon learns that the Russians are involved when, in the course of searching the family home of the kidnapped girl, he is interrupted by a woman who has also come to search. Gabriel hides, and he hears her making a phone call in Russian. The scene isn't a problem at the time, but as we learn more, we realize that the woman had no reason to search the room -- and we never, in fact, learn what she was after. Another problem -- the kidnappers become aware that Gabriel is on the case and they ask specifically for him to be the bagman and bring the euros. Even at first this seems odd -- I mean really . . . serious kidnappers don't ask for trouble -- but when we learn more later, the insistence on keeping Gabriel in the picture seems to make even less sense. I could also have done without the Corsican "signadora" and her prognostications, although the Corsican atmosphere in general is nicely evoked.
Moral issues? It's absolutely OK to torture and then cold-bloodedly kill "bad" people. Gabriel has no qualms about it, but the English Assassin, Christopher Keller, has even less compunction. Why bother with him, when a solid Israeli fellow-officer could do just as well as backup? The only reason can be, I think, to lessen our moral disapproval of Gabriel. Gabriel calls himself a soldier, unlike the mercenary Keller, but he's not acting as a soldier in this novel, so there doesn't seem much, beyond art-restoration (!) to suggest Gabriel's moral superiority, and I don't think that cuts it. There's also an implication that Gabriel is a kind of suffering servant -- he does awful things and suffers for some of them, but it's all justified by the end, the preservation of Israel. His idealized wife, Chiara, is our stand-in here: her unreserved love for him is meant to signal to the reader that Gabriel is OK. That, I think, is just a bit TOO obvious. For all that, though, I enjoyed the book.. It keeps you reading . . .