276 of 299 people found the following review helpful
Okay, here's the thing from a reviewer's viewpoint. You would probably not be reading the reviews of Daniel Silva's newest book in his Gabriel Allon spy series if you weren't already familiar with his writing. Silva's written 10 or so novels in the series and I think I've read most of them. And this one, "Portrait of a Spy" is a very good Daniel Silva/Gabriel Allon book. But it is similar to all the others I've read. And for me, a reviewer, it's a difficult book to review for that reason.
Daniel Silva is deeply concerned with the Middle East and the problems with radical Islamism that have risen from there in the last 60 years or so. Silva uses his books - characters and plots - to speak intelligently about those problems and the repercussions - terrorist bombings in both the Middle East countries and in Europe. Silva seems to publish a new book in the series every July. Now, this year and this book, 2011 and "Portrait of a Spy", pose a fairly tricky problem for Daniel Silva. How much of the "Arab Spring" - which actually began in mid-December, 2010 - does he include in his story? And does he include the assassination of Bin Ladin, which occurred fairly close to the time of publication? I could tell that he makes reference to Bin Ladin's death in a line towards the end where the text could still be changed in final proofs. The "Arab Spring" is mentioned towards the end. That's the problem he may have faced with the plot. But it's with the characters he's really facing problems.
Gabriel Allon has not changed much in the 15 or so years he's been the subject of Daniel Silva's pen. And Chiara, his younger Italian wife is still gorgeous. They are still trying to retire to the English countryside and really go back to art restoration. But the Mossad is still trying to drag Gabriel back in to work on missions for them. Shomrom is still the aging lion of King Saul Boulevard, still hunting down the same Islamic terrorists. Other peripheral characters like English art dealers are still doing their selling and Israeli, British, and American agents are still doing their spycraft. In effect, not much has changed in the lives of Gabriel Allon and his cast of characters. I would love to see some further character development by Silva in next year's Allon book. Give him a kid - who is not killed in a terrorist attack. Let Chiara age a little and maybe become less gorgeous. Give her a haircut. Finally kill off Shomron, who seems to be a pain in everyone's side in Israeli intelligence.
So, why am I giving "Portrait" five stars, even with my silly complaints and comments? Because, it is a very good Daniel Silva/Gabriel Allon book. It gives the reader - who is usually well-acquainted with the characters and on-going plot line - another good read. And that's really the reason for a reviewer to write a review and for a reader to read one.
102 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2011
Gabriel Allon is on site and fails to stop a terrorist attack in London. He leaves his Cornish retirement to help a CIA ally eradicate the network that executed the attack, as well as the operational mastermind and inspiration of said network. Ultimately Gabriel lives and triumphs...which should surprise no one. Entertaining, somewhat engrossing, extremely well written, Portrait of a Spy was not all I hoped it would be. I can handle the Allon books being cookie cutter plots, but the books are so well written that I enjoy the ride even though. However, what begins as a really clever idea is not carried through by the author. Silva had the chance to break from the mold of the last few books and he chose not to.
On the cookie cutter front, we have the standard Allon associates-Shamron, Uri, the Allon Team, and now extended elements in the CIA and the world of broadcast news. We have world class bad guys with an agenda...but the new trick is that the bad guys will be found by routing funds to them with the help of the daughter of...a man Allon killed and who dies in the arms of the daughter Allon wants help from.
If there is a weakness in the Allon series, it may be how anyone who is asked feels compelled to help Allon, and in the course of working with/for him they come to see him as being wonderful...even here. No one comes away feeling used or bitter or in any way conflicted or angry. That is the opportunity Silva misses in Portrait of a Spy. As I rolled through the book-and it is quite easy reading-I kept waiting for that moment when the daughter would break bad on Gabriel, or maybe have her own agenda, or just do something so that we are moved for a time away from actions and movement based on international intrigue to something based in a more personal situation.
The book is entertaining and easy to read. For those who have not read an Allon novel this could well be a five star book. Even with the traditional/cookie cutter plot I would normally run it at four stars. However, this time Silva created characters and a situation where he could have gone in a different direction...and backed away. It is our loss as readers that Mr. Silva backed away from this opportunity to broaden his characters and milleu of the "Allon experience".
A general observation about the Allon series, and not about this book in particular...Gabriel is getting too old to reasonably be doing what he is doing. I thought this would be the novel where Mr. Silva heads Gabriel down a different track-another path he opted not to follow. Allon has to be about 60. He was recruited as an art student into the Sword of Gideon project puts him about age 20 in 1972, and that is an age/event that Silva has not run from (as Robert Parker did with Spenser's army service in the Korean era). Frankly, he cannot, as that experience tracking down the Munich 1972 terrorists is the foundation of and entryway into the Israeli intelligence service. Yet Allon is regularly doing things that would be problematic for a man half his age, from chasing down bad guys to intentionally taking beatings so as to get close to the bad guys. The same happens in this book. Silva needs to find a way to move Gabriel into situations where he is using his experience and not his body to make things happen-which btw would help get away from the cookie cutter thing.
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
In the eleventh thriller in the Gabriel Allon series, Silva has the art restorer/supposedly retired spy-assassin involved in a confrontation with the new face of global terror; a person who was once a paid CIA asset.
Typical in all books in this series, Allon and his team (involving most of the cast of characters that have appeared in previous books in the series) devise an intricate plan laden with risk to thwart the terrorist and his network from carrying out more devasting attacks across the globe. Also reminiscent of most books in this series, the plot in Silva's Portrait Of A Spy combines the worlds of art and intelligence in a way that seems that the stories are ripped from yesterday'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 Portrait Of A Spy very much and consider it, as I have all of the other books featuring Gabriel Allon, to be engrossing, well-researched and well-written. However, on a comparative basis, my level of enjoyment has dropped a notch. In small part, this is due to the action that occurs being not quite as intense as in some of the other books in the series. The larger factor contributing to my comparative drop in enjoyment is that, after reading all eleven of the Gabriel Allon books, the successful formula on which Silva has based his series is "showing some superficial age lines" and the development of his main and key supporting characters need some refreshening. As such, I would not be disappointed if Silva's next book is a stand-alone.
Despite these comparative criticisms, I still consider Silva to be the "gold standard" of thriller writers. 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.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Daniel Silva is one of my favorite authors because he is a master writer who knows how to craft a good story and captivate the reader. This novel presents another chapter in the life of Silva's protagonist Gabriel Allon, a gifted artist and art restorer who has also served as the lead assassin for the Israeli secret service ever since he helped to track down the perpetrators of the Munich Massacre. Allon has now retired (or so he thinks) from his intelligence activities to focus on restoring works of art. But when he follows a suicide bomber into Convent Garden in London and tries to stop him from detonating, he finds himself thrust back into working with the American, British, and Israeli intelligence agencies to prevent further terrorist attacks.
In order to infiltrate the terrorist network that is believed to be responsible for the bombing in London, as well as two prior attacks in other cities, Allon enlists the aid of a wealthy Saudi Arabian businesswoman named Nadia, whose father Allon killed in front of her in a prior novel. She has forgiven him for doing so because, unlike her father, she personally does not support the terrorists, but has the "credentials" by reason of her father's reputation as someone who does. She agrees to effectively become a spy working with Allon and other agents from Mossad, the CIA, and M15. Silva "paints" a beautiful word portrait of her life, just as Allon ultimately paints an exquisite oil portrait of her.
This novel is a page turner that is very well written, pulsating with action, and intelligently addresses the political shortcomings in America's approach to dealing with terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Politics aside, however, this novel nicely explores Allon's complex strengths and vulnerabilities, and also provides interesting insights into such topics as the art world, the world economy, the quest for new governments in the Middle East, and feminism in Saudi Arabia. Silva skillfully explores these topics in a non-didactic way that smoothly integrates them into the story being told, so that the reader is both entertained and informed, but without having to suffer any preaching.
I have read all of the Allon novels, and for both structure and story this one is among the best. I recommend it even if you have not read any of the earlier novels.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2011
I have read every book that Daniel Silva has ever written. I usually find his plots fresh and interesting despite the inherent claustrophobia of his genre. He writes very interesting characters and story lines that are only slightly weighted down by a fairly passive prose.
Despite this flaw, he usually manages to build tension through the story before finally delivering an epic climax.
In Portrait of a Spy, however, I found that Silva came across as though overtly preaching to the reader about the inadequacy and blatant stupidity of the American Political system. Because of the hyperbolic line Silva takes in this regard, I find his story less credible than I would like.
He does not sensor his beliefs about the world's response to the Middle-East, and all but accuses Saudi Arabia of terrorism within their very governmental structure. He maintains that the US is too interested in Diplomacy to take on these issues.
His plot has also been pulled off several times before, by none other than himself. He merely changes the results somewhat to keep things interesting, but Gabriel Allon is getting old and there's not much he can do about that.
Silva needs to move on from writing Gabriel Allon stories and take a different line on fighting his political battles with the liberal media if he wants people to keep reading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2011
I have followed Daniel from the very beginning and I consider PORTRAIT OF A SPY his best work to date in a long line of great and well thought out books. His craftmanship in this book is outstanding and the plot fascinating. Despite another terrorist threat the plot adds new demensions and fascinating twists that keeps the reader jumping. His new female character is perhaps his most interesting and beautifully drawn. As one gets into the book and his first thirty some pages are masterfully written, one wants to slow down and digest every word, something that authors using this genre rarely accomplish. In addition his main character, Gabriel Allon, actually is even more interesting as his character expands. One can only appreciate Daniel's "family" of characters as he keeps adding new traits that spin along with the story line. Congratulations Daniel, a wonderful book and beautifully written.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 24, 2011
Each year, I wait for the new Gabriel Allon thriller with great anticipation; and each year, the new book is better than the previous book. This is a perfect series with "real" people instead of characters. If every author wrote as well as Daniel Silva, the world would be full of people who did nothing else but read!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2011
I've read virtually all of Silva's thrillers about Israeli agent Gabriel Allon. This one, alas, is one of the weakest for two prime reasons:
#1, the beginning, the story kicks into gear only by way of the most unlikely of coincidences, the proverbial million to one shot.
#2, the ending, in which (no surprise) the hero triumphs over the arch-villain via one of the oldest, creakiest cliches ever -- if you watch cop/detective movies or TV series you've seen it a gazillion times (half a hint: the villain aims his gun at the unarmed hero...)
In between Silva delivers his usual brisk, 'round the world agent adventures, but that coincidental beginning and cliched ending make this one of the weakest efforts in his very successful oeuvre.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2011
I have read all of Silva's books, and very much enjoyed most of them. However, as others have noted, the Allon books have now become too formulaic, too predictable, too cookie cutter deluxe to bother with. Brilliant and carefully planned scheme to get bad guy falls apart just as it is about to bear fruit, Allon gets tortured and beaten up, and, miraculously, villain gets killed anyway. But another aspect of this "novel" gives reason to give up on Silva and Allon. Like John LeCarre before him when consumed with hatred for the Iraq War, Silva no longer bothers to sufficiently separate his politics and world view from his fiction. Much of the dialogue in this book reads like an Op Ed piece. In fact this novel could be said to be an Op Ed piece posing as a novel.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2011
It was last year I first became acquainted with Daniel Silva and his works. After reading the first, I was hooked with the character of Gabriel Allon--his strengths, his weaknesses and his life.
While reading, I found myself able to actually envision the details of those he experienced, from yellowed, nicotine stained finger tips to the powerful, little old man, Shamron, and the fascinating relationship shared between he and Gabriel Allon.
The contrast of the haunted art restorer, with the aggressive social conscious protector of the people is fascinating and builds Allon's character immensely.
I'm halfway through this new work and the quality of writing is even more superb...love this part, "The sound of the motorcycles dissipated, along with the memory of the woman. Gabriel thrust his hands into his coat pockets and walked on, thinking of nothing at all, as the trees wept leaves of gold."
Beautiful! The conversations and dialogue are so real and strong--no fillers, no fluff, just strong material.
Kudos to you Daniel...one of your best!
Now the problem...the strong relationship between the reader and the character invokes a feeling of loss during the time between books. Keep writing and let us grow as old as Shamron with Gabriel Allon!