Sunday, July 22, 2012

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva

Gabriel Allon has "retired" to Cornwall to spend leisurely days with his wife Chiara. He awaits his next restoration project and is delighted to learn that Julian Isherwood has an undiscovered Titian needing work. Gabriel and Chiara travel to London to negotiate the work but a terrorist gets in the way. Terrorists have launched attacks in Paris and Copenhagen. The eagle eyes of Allon spot a human bomb in crowded Covent Garden. He has mentally calculated the timing of the next explosion and his instincts are triggered as he steps in to try to stop the detonation. And so the 2011 installment of the Allon series begins.

Silva, once again, brings the art restorer/ Israeli operative out of retirement. To say that this is a coincidental is a given, but Silva gets a pass to set up one of the most intricate books in the series. Gabriel cannot say no to the coalition of terrorist fighters being assembled by the the United States and joins them in Washington. All the players whom we have come to know are there: Eli Lavon, street surveillance expert; Uzi Navot, Israel's chief of secret intelligence; Ari Shamron, esteemed head of Massad and Adrian Carter, director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service. A most ingenious plan is formulated that involves recruiting Nadia al-Bakari, daughter of Zizi al-Bakari who financed mass murder and was killed by Allon in The Secret Servant.  Could the team enlist her aid to bring down the group who has threatened to continue the work of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden. (n.b During the writing of this book the death of Bin Laden happened. Silva incorporates it into the plot without skipping a beat.)

The action moves from London to New York, Washington, Paris, the opulent city of Dubai, and the Saudi desert. Setting is a real strength of any Silva book. He has done his research and through his descriptions he plops the reader down into those settings. Portrait of a Spy is no exception. Anyone who has been to London feels right at home walking with Gabriel and Chiara through Covent Garden even if it is on the heels of a human bomb.

Portrait of a Spy is thrilling and a page turner. Silva is a master of that. There is no way the reader can erase the final scenes from the mind's gallery. But Silva is also a political and social commentator. He does not easy hide in this book his disdain for the Saudi treatment of women nor the country's leadership in it's part in the terrorists' world. His mastery of the subject matter almost make for prophetic reading and a real wake-up call to those who have been lulled into complacency.  His books are not to be missed and I dread the day that Gabriel Allon goes into retirement for real.

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