Daniel Silva must be the world’s number one spy yarn author. His series featuring Gabriel Allon, art restorer and Israeli spy, fly off the shelves. Allon can be contemplative, artistic, and a killer. He can fake a Rembrandt or fire a machine gun. No better main character exists anywhere in thriller fiction.
My favorite in this series is the 16th, The Black Widow (Harper Collins, $28.99), which came out in 2016. The book gets off to a flying start with a massive bombing in the Marais, the Jewish section of Paris, killing a dear friend of Allon and destroying a center of Holocaust research. The French government asks him and the Israelis for assistance tracking down the terrorist responsible for this bloody outrage. Gabriel’s promotion to director of the Israeli secret intelligence service is delayed as he undertakes this mission.
Allon needs someone to go undercover and infiltrate the organization run by the terrorist given the sobriquet of Saladin. What a tall order! Someone who must be brave, yet credible enough to fool the world’s worst terrorists, and have a skill useful to the cell.
Enter one of Silva’s best characters in all his books, Dr. Natalie Mizrahi, who is working trauma in an Israeli hospital. Natalie grew up in France, but her family felt increasing tension from growing anti-semiticism in France and fled when she was younger. Single, fluent in French, and tough, Natalie is the perfect recruit for the spy game. She undergoes weeks of training and emersion into Palestinian propaganda to the point where she is sometimes confused over who she is: Palestinian or Jew? Doctor or killer?
Gabriel sets her up as a physician in a walk-in clinic in a heavily Muslim area of Paris where she works for several months before getting an opportunity to float to the “right” people, her sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Just as they planned, Natalie is recruited into the terror organization run by Saladin.
Natalie travels with a British girl looking for adventure, by way of Turkey, into Syria for terrorist training. When an American drone strikes the training base injuring, Saladin, Natalie is told she must save his life or be shot. Without adequate medical supplies, let alone a hospital, Natalie undertakes the near-impossible task of salvaging a man with multiple serious traumatic injuries. Although she is tempted to overdose Saladin on morphine, she decides she is not on a suicide mission and does her best with assorted Band-Aids and thread. The tension during her care of the terrorist is riveting, as the reader hopes the terrorist dies, but cheers on Natalie’s efforts.
Once recovered, Saladin has so much trust in Natalie that he takes her with him and his team to Washington D.C. where they have planned an operation that will rival 9/11. Despite her extensive training, Natalie accidently blows her cover, putting her life in eminent danger. Gabriel and his crew must track Natalie and save her while trying to prevent the massive plot.
The Black Widow is genuine page-turning stuff. The scenes with Natalie are absolutely enthralling. If you identify with Natalie you cannot put the book down.
Unfortunately, the sequel, House of Spies (Harper Collins, $28.99) is a colossal disappointment. It too starts with a major terrorist attack, this one in London, instituted by Saladin. Like the French, the desperate British turn to Gabriel for help finding the terrorist mastermind.
Gabriel assembles a team charged with finding and killing Saladin. One is an Israeli immigrant from Russia, perfect for the role of Russian multi-billionaire who made his money trading arms. Natalie plays his French wife and soon they are on the cote d’ azur luring the French associate of Saladin into their orbit of wealthy partiers. Their goal is to turn the French drug dealer with the promise that he can escape prosecution for his illegal deeds by helping the Israeli and French governments.
The most interesting character in Spies is Chris Keller, former SAS trooper and current Corsican assassin. Keller assumes the role of general assistant to the wealthy Russian and is always ready with his pistol or his fist. And even his charm directed at the Frenchman’s beautiful wife.
With this exciting set up somehow the book manages to just plod. There is never much question that the rich French dealer will see the light and cooperate, nor that his wife will betray him to the dashing Keller. But the worst let down is when the Americans drone bombs the terrorists--nowhere as dramatic as placing sweet Natalie in the middle of a band of killers. And how exciting is it to kill a comatose man?
Silva skewers into the improbable when in a shootout between two “good guys” with pistols against five terrorists with automatic weapons, the Israelis kill all the terrorists and escape with not even flesh wounds. It’s understandable Silva didn’t want to kill off any of his heroes for later use in other books but come on!
Also, how likely is it that while valuing Gabriel’s intelligence talent and inviting him to London for consultation, that the British government would allow the chief of Israeli intelligence to engage in actual operations in the middle of London? Britain has probably the world’s best special forces service in the SAS which would be more than capable of taking a headshot to a terrorist wearing a bomb once he had been identified.
Sequels are tough, especially when trying to use the same characters again. Readers of the first book don’t want or need more background information on the characters and after you have already shot up two cities, it’s hard to recreate the fear and tension. My recommendation is savor The Black Widow and save your money on House of Spies. If you have read my review you pretty much get it.
Steve E Clark as seen in the New York Times is Author of Justice Is for the Lonely and Justice Is for the Deserving, Kristen Kerry Novels Of Suspense. You can purchase his books via SteveClarkAuthor.com/BuyBook or request it at your local book store. Want to know more about Steve Clark, read more reviews or speak directly with Steve? Learn more about Steve at SteveClarkAuthor.com