Bookinista review: Sweeping spy series scores again
July 29, 2015
If a reader is familiar with the first 13 books in a series, then the 14th can be a party. If the novel contains carry-over characters, then reading is a gathering of old friends and acquaintances. Such is the case with "The English Spy" — although some of these characters would not be invited to share a blanket at Bravo! Vail.
The inimitable author Daniel Silva's protagonist, Gabriel Allon, is about to become a father of twins by his second wife. His first, in an assisted living facility outside Jerusalem, was gravely injured in an explosion that killed their young son in Vienna at the beginning of the series. The troubles in "The English Spy" begin with that bomb.
The novel is about retaliation on a global scale involving almost every major player in the counterintelligence world. It is a sweeping work, one that could disintegrate in the hands of a less skilled novelist. Silva weaves narrative threads and back story masterfully, informing a new reader without losing devoted ones familiar with early events.
Fear not for Silva
"The English Spy" starts in a way that could concern a Silva fan. Characters in the first chapters are a mishmash of the real British royal family — Princess Diana and Louis Mountbatten, most prominently. The details read like a tabloid. Fans of any best-selling author worry that the author will grow bored with a series, and that this boredom will erode the quality of the story.
Fear not for Silva.
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He settles into his stealthy best quickly enough, and the introductory disaster fades as the plot develops and danger escalates. Settings are global: the British Isles, the Caribbean, Russia, Corsica, Western Europe and the Middle East. Elements are real: Russian domination, civil unrest and terrorism.
Unlike most works of this genre, "The English Spy" is not driven by large-scale greed or terror prevention or human trafficking, but by very personal revenge. One man hates another enough to do whatever it takes, create whatever carnage necessary regardless of collateral damage, to kill his enemy.
A More Vulnerable Protagonist
Despite the evil drama inherent in that synopsis, Silva is (intentionally or unintentionally) evolving Allon. The protagonist is chattier and more humorous. His taciturn persona has lost some of its sharp edge, possibly due to that second shot at fatherhood. These changes do not diminish Allon's powerful character, but make him less distinct and more vulnerable in new ways.
Is the world ready for a congenial archangel?
Silva's characterizations are spot on, as befits a mature series and an author with his talent. His attention to story shaping is precise enough to convey atmosphere without drowning in minutiae. "The English Spy" is vigorously paced; when readers set their books down, the story roils when they return. The book is a twisting, heavily populated read.
Joined at the Hip
The author has said that he and Allon are joined at the hip, and that he spends a great deal of time in the world he has created for Allon. This familiarity is apparent in the consistently high quality of Silva's work, which flies to the top of the charts before it is released.
"The English Spy" is engrossing and riveting, as good as the rest of the books in the Allon franchise. That craftsmanship places this 14th novel among the very best of international suspense.
Eagle County resident NLB Horton (NLBHorton.com) is an award-winning author of two successful works of international suspense, "When Camels Fly" and "The Brothers' Keepers." Both are available at The Bookworm of Edwards and at other booksellers, and her third novel will be released in 2016.