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.
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.
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.
on April 9, 2013
Gabriel Allon, world class art restorer/former Israeli spy (that's some slash, eh?), gets pulled back into the game when he witnesses a suicide bombing in London--one of a series of suicide attacks across Europe. He enlists one of the world's richest women to infiltrate the terrorists' financial network.
It's a solid premise full of colorful characters. I bought right into it.
But then, nothing actually happens. Oh sure, the story plays out. Yet, I found myself waiting, then aching, then praying for a major plot reversal--or even for a surprise to come along. I'm still waiting.
The plot steamrolls its way right to the denouement. Pretty much everything I thought would happen, did happen. On top of that, the last 10% of the book is a long series of dull anticlimaxes that aren't worth the effort to read thoroughly. It's supposed to be moving, I guess. It's not.
Before I began this book, I was somewhat confident that I knew enough about the present state of terrorism perpetuated by al-Qaeda and relative factions. Half way through this excellent novel (more of a non-fiction novel), I realized that Daniel Silva is teaching me that the US and Israel have an excellent relationship between the military and intelligence but the political one is not well defined and is precarious.
Silva chooses Gabriel Allon, the main character in his previous novels, as the hero and a pure spy. He kills people to avoid massive deaths of innocent people. He is brilliant and brave, knows how to infiltrate the enemy, and he has a "legitimate" occupation as an art restorer. He is a master at restoring great works of art. The background of this story is a genuine Titian, which serves as the basis for potential terrorist strategy. Allon, Israeli and American Intelligence are working together to terminate an American cleric living in Yemen.
Silva's characters drive the plot. There are important women integral to the story but none more important than Nadia al-Bakari, who is a billionaire heiress. Despite that her father was a terrorist, she is a modern Muslim who does not want extremists to triumph. The author crafted one of the most fascinating characters. Regardless that she operates multi-national companies and controls her large staff, she is debased because she is a woman. Saudi Arabia continues to deny women basic rights and they are depicted when Nadia must forego her Western clothes, wear a veil, pray separately, serve men exclusively, and basically become a tangential symbol. Here was one of the world's most wealthy women, but she could not show her face. Silva overtly emphasized that women were the key to Arab change.
This book is an intelligent thriller dealing with current Arab terrorism, US relations to the Arab world and to Israel. Silva's points are provocative. He doesn't hide his opinion that the present administration does not take a definitive pro-Israel position. Credit is given for the killing of Bin Laden but it appears to have hit a critical point in time. Silva is a convert to Judaism, which emboldens the plot and respect for Israel's courage, intellect and ability to get things accomplished. After reading this book, I have no illusions about Saudi Arabia and terrorist financing.
Each July I look forward to a new Daniel Silva book, and I'm always amazed at his ability to write quality books year after year. Portrait of a Spy is an entertaining, engrossing and timely tale that is his 14th novel and the 11th book in his Gabriel Allon series.
Former Mossad assassin and fine art restorer Gabriel Allon is now retired from Israeli Intelligence and living quietly in Cornwall with his wife, Chiara. Allon and Chiara travel to London so that Allon can evaluate a painting. While walking through Covent Garden, Allon spies a possible suicide bomber and tries to take him out. Before he can shoot, he's wrestled to the ground by several members of British Intelligence. The bomb detonates and kills a number of people--the 4th such attack in Europe in a short period of time. Allon finds himself sucked back into the International Intelligence community, trying to find a new terrorist network. Their leader, Rashid Al-Husseini, was handled by the CIA but has now gone rogue. The CIA wants him eliminated to avoid future embarrassment without getting their hands dirty. Allon needs to find someone who can infiltrate the network, although this proves to be risky for all involved.
While the plot has similarities to some of Silva's other books in that art work is used to transfer money, the author makes the story fresh by incorporating current events into Portrait of a Spy. Saddam Hussein is dead and Europe is falling to pieces. "After decades of lavish social spending, much of the Continent was teetering on the brink of fiscal and monetary disaster...Greece was sinking slowly into the Aegean, Spain was on life support, and the Irish Miracle had turned out to be nothing more than a mirage. In the smart salons of Brussels, many Eurocrats were daring to say aloud what had once been unthinkable--that the dream of European integration was dying. And in their darker moments, a few of them actually wondered whether Europe as they knew it might be dying, too." Silva also knows his stuff when it comes to intelligence. "There is a truism about terror networks: putting the pieces in place is not as difficult as one might imagine. But once the mastermind pulls the trigger and carries out his first attack, the element of surprise is lost and the network exposes itself."
In Portrait of a Spy, Allon's old team is back to assist him including Chiara, Uzi Navot, Dina Sarid, Eli Lavon, Yaakov Rossman, Mikhail Abramov, Rimona Stern, Julian Isherwood and Yossi Gavish. Even Ari Shamron, former head of "The Office" joins in on the job. Outside of the Israelis, Adrian Carter (the CIA), Graham Seymour (MI5), Sarah Brancroft (CIA) and Nadia al-Bakari (daughter of former terrorist financier, Zizi al-Bakari from The Secret Servant) play starring roles. Because of this extensive list of recurring characters, for as much as I enjoyed Portrait of a Spy, I would recommend that a new reader start at the beginning with The Kill Artist.
on August 11, 2011
I have read all of the Gabriel Allon series and always eagerly await the next. Not disappointed as Portrait of a Spy is a terrific read with the familiar characters more and more nuanced and a well-researched and informative background in a very compelling story. Hearty recommendation. This might be my favorite so far.
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!
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.
on July 25, 2011
Daniel Silva's latest is amazingly topical; as fast-paced as we have come to expect, and his story-line is once again new ... not an easy feat when working with the same cast of characters (who, by the way, we love and welcome as old friends!). His style is delightful - I often find myself reflecting on his apt and concise phrasing even though I desperately want to know what happens next. I tend to read his books twice; once to find out how they end and a second time around to simply enjoy the ride! Many, many stars!