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David Island "Excalibur" RSS Feed (San Rafael, CA)

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Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars LAPD Dirty Cops, Good Cops and a Really Great Dog, February 7, 2013
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This review is from: Suspect (Kindle Edition)
"Suspect" by Robert Crais is an excellent police story (generally a genre of low interest to me). It is excellent until the last 40 pages. There are 2 primary characters: LA Police Officer Scott James; and his K-9 police dog Maggie, who is a mid-east wounded war veteran canine being rehabilitated for police work. She's the real hero here.

The anthropomorphized characterizations of Maggie's behavior, thoughts and skill sets are charming and heart-warming. Scott, on the other hand, is a kind of PTSD basket-case, who, while quite smart and daring, is rehabilitating after nearly dying in the line of duty 9 months earlier. Solving the crime of that horrific episode forms the central core of this story.

At times the book is too slow, with too much detail and a meandering story line. There are too many characters to keep track of, too many crime details to remember, and too much "cop-talk", that singular sad invention of writers and movie-makers in this genre. A good thing: there is absolutely no sex in this story, and we thank Mr. Crais for this. In fact, all the characters are basically without such urges.

Speaking of movies, "Suspect" would undoubtedly be a good one and probably will be - but in the modern "Transporter" series style, where all the bad guys eventually get their well-deserved comeuppance after some nerve-racking modern-day near-death adventures.

A primary plotting problem eventually almost kills the whole story. The denouement - approximately the final 40 pages or so - is ridiculous and resembles a bad B Hollywood movie.

As a result of this fatal plotting flaw, "Suspect" deserves only a 3 on Amazon's rating scale. With a more realistic ending, the rating would/could be much higher.

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2.0 out of 5 stars Gratuitous Violence and a Ridiculous Denouement, February 3, 2013
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" Codename Aphrodite" by Charles Faddis could have been a really good "Rogue-Ex-CIA-Agent-Seeks-Revenge-for-the-Murder-of-His-Wife-by-Terrorists" novel, except it isn't.

Conceptually it's quite good as the main plot line follows some of the events of the infamous 17 November Greek terrorist group in the latter days of its existence in the late 1990s. But the plotting is seriously flawed on a number of levels. Stretching reader tolerance for believability, Mr. Faddis walks (and falls off) a fine line throughout the novel, as he takes his violence-prone characters (on all sides of the political good-bad continuum) through episode after episode of near and actual fatal activities.

Whenever any author uses the word "miraculously" to describe how his heroes escape a predicament into which they find themselves, a reader knows that the author is in trouble and is unable to give any plausible escape explanation. Faddis uses the word "miraculously" several times in the story during the most extreme dangerous episodes of his design. Thus, one must suspend disbelief several times too many to make reading beyond that word "miraculous" a pleasure, rather than a roll-the-eyes ordeal. Coincidence just doesn't work in this kind of novel.

There's too much graphic, gratuitous and unnecessary violence, maiming and murder. Let the reader enjoy some of his own imagination, okay? You know, like radio used to be?

The main characters are rather well developed. Bill ("Captain America" as he is fondly called by Aphrodite) is psychologically weakened, having been beaten down by his own feeling of responsibility for his wife's murder at the hands of 17 November folks, but hell-bent on the revenge thing, way, way outside the scope and control of the CIA or anyone else, for that matter. Aphrodite is a Greek ex-drug addict, beautiful, slender, sexy, physically strong and an amazing quick-change artist. Naturally the inevitable between them happens. That's all okay, even if it is a bit sappy much of the time. All is ruined at the end of the story, because the last 40+ pages of the novel read like a badly written, badly acted "B" movie where the good guys HAVE TO win, even if how they win is "miraculous" in the extreme. Thus, the denouement is absurd, and its absurdity ruins once and for all the entire novel.

Though totally lacking even a smidgeon of humor, the story has a few good episodes. The opening scenes in Mexico are good. The motorcycle chase on the streets of Athens is excellent. The descriptions of Santorini are exquisite, though seriously in error geographically (I've been there and easily spot Faddis' inaccuracies on page after page). The anarchist bar scene is excellent. The capture of one of the bad guys is well done. I never quite got, though, how the protagonists (The Americano and Aphrodite) escaped being easily discovered and eliminated.

The main problem of course is plotting. Ultimately, the plot fails, totally. Faddis needs to work on that aspect of his writing before he can claim a respected place in this genre. His ideas are good, his history reasonably accurate, and his action scenes are well done for the most part - even though there is way too much needless descriptions of the backs of heads being blown apart. The gratuitous violence is abhorrent. And, of course, the death-defying "miraculous" escapes by the main characters simply don't fly.

Thus, for all its promise, this book is a 2 on the Amazon rating scale.

Agents of Innocence: A Novel
Agents of Innocence: A Novel
Price: $9.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars American Intelligence in the Middle East in the 1970s, January 26, 2013
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"Agents of Innocence" by David Ignatius is quite a good story. I suppose it's even better if you're old enough to remember most of the events that happen in the story (from 1969 to 1983), in the Mid-East, and especially in the country of Lebanon, in which this story occurs. It spans the presidencies of Nixon, Ford, Carter and early Reagan.

Much of the time, the tale reads like a non-fiction, almost documentary, account of Ignatius's fictional characterization of that explosive era, which ended with the United States more-or-less withdrawing its few troops and much of its citizenry from Lebanon in 1984 -- with its tail between its legs. If readers think that Benghazi in September 2012 was horrific, they have short memories about embassy bombings indeed. Benghazi was nothing compared to what happened in Lebanon.

This book is not a page-turning thriller, nor does it chronicle a series of killings and revenge. Nope, rather, it's kind of a slow-moving tale of the workings of the CIA, the Palestinians, and American intelligence operations in the area during these years. The main character, CIA agent Tom Rogers, is well-drawn: he's handsome, tall, slender, sly, almost charming, and quite clever. He speaks fluent Arabic. He makes few mistakes even when bucking the smothering, incomprehensible system for which he works. The only mistake (failure) Ignatius as a writer makes is trying to give Rogers a personal life, including a high school-like affair with a Lebanese woman. We could have done without that. His family life is also mostly a distraction to the story. His wife, whose character is developed to a considerable degree early in the book, essentially drops altogether out of the story by mid-book. Pity that. I liked her. She added a different perspective on the life of intelligence officers abroad.

Why these writers, including Mr. Ignatius, want to make most Americans in their books look like complete boobs with little to no regard for the culture and customs of the places they work is beyond me. I doubt in real life it is as bad as the Ugly American stereotype, employed here by Ignatius and elsewhere by most other authors of books like this.

What's most interesting about this story is its central, though soft, anti-Israel message. Yes, the Black September murders in Munich occur in this book and are some of the focus of the story. But in contrast to say, author Daniel Silva's uber-tiresome flaunting of all Israeli causes, Ignatius boldly paints another picture of Israel, one that is far more balanced than Silva is ever able to establish in his long series starring Israeli super-assassin Gabriel Allon's endless pursuits and murders of all Isarel's enemies (especially his early books about the pursuit of and the killing of all the murderers of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972). Thus, there is some overlap between early Silva stories and this one.

All-in-all "Agents of Innocence" is a very good story, and you the reader must constantly remind yourself that you are reading fiction. Thus, it's a nice historical novel, demonstrating the long and ancient roots of all the problems facing the Middle East today. Even in 2013, little has changed from 1969. The tangle of social, political, cultural, and religious tensions are revealed to be as important to us and as impossible to solve in that era as they are today. I give it a 4 on Amazon's rating scale, though by no means is this book a thriller in the usual style of books in this genre. Rather it is a leisurely fictional read about espionage and intelligence activities in Lebanon on the 1970s. In this book, there's no one to love, few to hate, even fewer to admire, a few to be embarrassed about, and lots to mull over, while cringing at the enormity of the problem the world faces in this region. The ending is sobering.

Jacques the Fatalist (Classics)
Jacques the Fatalist (Classics)
Price: $11.22

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ponderous, January 3, 2013
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"Jacques the Fatalist and His Master," by Denis Diderot (1713-1784), is often mentioned in the (short) list of First Modern Novels. Others include" Madame Bovary" and "Don Quixote". "Bovary" I couldn't stand and "Don Quixote" remains to be read. However, "Jacques" just isn't my cup of tea. I gave up and stopped reading after 50 or 60 pages, as I just couldn't get into it.

It's ponderous, obtuse and slow as molasses. It jumps back and forth, regaling itself in its style of interruptions and side-tracks. Largely "conversational" the story's 2 main characters engage each other in an interminable conversation, often characterized by rather "smart ass" commentary by both, and interrupted by late 1700s ribald adventures. Besides that, the philosophy and life views expressed are decidedly passé, some 130-140 years later, and - worse - kind of uninteresting. Is this one of the first novels? I'll pass on that question.

For me "Jacques" is impossible to rate, though rate it I must. It's no more than a 2 in my mind, but others may find it fascinating and a grand commentary on life in the late 1700s, as well as find reason to analyze it for its novel structure and format. I'm satisfied to delete it from my Kindle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 23, 2013 7:05 PM PDT

Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage
Price: $10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Murky, Obscure, Not Compelling, December 24, 2012
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"Bloodmoney: A Novel of Espionage" by David Ignatius is quite well-written, and Mr. Ignatius apparently has excellent credentials and background for penning a story like this. However, the plot fails ultimately, taking down the entire book with it, and here's why.

Problem 1. There is no voice. Not one character emerges as having the book's story to tell, to become the reader's motivation for continued reading -- to bring excitement to and invigorate the tale. All the 5 or 6 primary characters appear rather as equals in the story. Even the heroine and main character, Sophie Marx, shows no heroic features in her persona. I really didn't care if she and the good guys won out in the end or not.

Problem 2. The story is a bit too cute. By that I mean the plot is vague and murky from start to finish. Who are these people? What are they doing? Who's in charge? Why would I care? When do I find out some of the answers to the puzzle of money laundering? The basic set-up of the fake investment company in London to fund the operations of the secret black ops CIA-stepchild agency doesn't fly, and worst of all, the attempted explanations of how it all works (financially) are uber-muddy and not logical, let alone credibly detailed.

Problem 3. The book is too easy to put down and way too difficult to pick up. It took me 3 weeks to read the thing. I would normally read such an international espionage thriller in 3 days or less. Thus, sorry to say, I found no compelling reason to persist in reading it.

Problem 4. The "love story" is not believable - at all. It's just plain silly at its core. Sophie's new love interest (as it works out in the end) may be a brilliant guy, but he's a total boob.

Problem 5. The entire denouement lacks credibility. It all works itself out in about 9 quick pages, unconvincingly and rather unbelievably as well.

All that said, the story has some redeeming characteristics. It is current. That is, the locales, people and the story's raison d'etre make sense in this hateful modern world of terrorist activity by everyone. In addition, most of the descriptions of various locations and situations in which the scenes occur are first-rate, believable and, to my knowledge, accurate. Mr. Ignatius is good at setting the geographical scene and scenery. These scenes somewhat made up for the bad plotting.

To rate this story is a dilemma for me. It's somewhere between a 1 and 3, and probably near 2.25. So that's what I'll give it, a 2, out of sheer frustration with and disappointment in the ultimate total product.

Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy, Book 2)
Winter of the World (The Century Trilogy, Book 2)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $9.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars AS THE WORLD TURNED, November 30, 2012
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Or, "How That Pesky World War II Annoyingly Interrupted Our Sex Lives."

"Winter of the World" by formerly great author Ken Follett is pure made-for-TV soap opera. It isn't literature, not even for one page, and it's way too long, too boring and too badly written.

For example, the desultory, adolescent writing includes this perfect example of how far Follett has descended. From Page 510, "After dinner they went to the cinema. The movie was great. Then Woody and Chuck walked the girls back to their apartment. On the way, Woody took Joanne's hand. She smiled and squeezed his hand, and he took that for encouragement." Geez, Mr. Follett, is that the best you can do these days? Or did someone else so creatively write this paragraph? One of your grandchildren? Whatever happened to the Follett we knew in "Eye of the Needle" and "Pillars of the Earth"?

The fundamental concept for this mostly uninteresting 940-page story is to relate the history of one of the most blockbuster eras the world has ever seen, through the pedestrian lives and loves of a few characters, whose coincidental path-crossing (and long-lost blood relationships) requires a reader to suspend disbelief -- page after page. The pitfalls of this device are 1) abrupt, herky-jerky scene shifts and time warps; 2) unfinished scenarios (the characters simply and magically move on to new adventures without adequate resolution to the previous action; 3) summarily dropped themes and action sequences. Stated simply, the story resembles the old TV sit-com, "Days of Our Lives," only it was better.

There is much too much reliance on way too often idiotic dialogue to advance the crucial historical/political/social/hegemony story of the time. It's like asking a perfectly sensible but ill-informed shop owner in Missouri to explain the 2012 "fiscal cliff".

Worst of all, the characters, in all their ordinariness, become little more than boring stereotypes. The story is filled with hate, especially toward Russians, even though there are several pro-Soviet enthusiastic characters. While there are many pro-British and pro-American characters, there is not one single believable Nazi. Thus, there is no attempt at balance and virtually no development of the complexity of issues of the time. It boils down to a pro-English speaker's paean. Disappointing, that. Kind of like Faux News.

There were some passing good parts. 1) Pearl Harbor, December 1941; 2) Russians taking Berlin in 1945; 3) The rise of women in politics and place in society; 4) 1946 when Churchill's party lost the election in Britain; 5) the atom bomb test in New Mexico in 1945; 6) Explanation of the War in Spain in the 1930s.

For the first time in the history of his long writing career, Follett explores the topic of homosexuality in some other way than merely dismissing it as a need-to-be-hidden aberration. Good. Congratulations.

He tries desperately to get into the heads and hearts of anti-Nazi Germans throughout the story, though resorts to stick figures and soap-opera uber-drama to do so, resulting in his characters oozing with insincere angst and making childish, panicky decisions.

Any characters to admire? Hmmmm, maybe all those Welsh Williams family members. As I wrote in my review of "Fall of Giants" (the first of this 3-book trilogy), those Brits remain his best-developed characters.

I did read it through to the end. It is not spell-binding nor is it a page-turner, and I never said to myself, "Hey, I wonder what's happening to these Follett characters in `Winter of the World'"? Nothing about them or the story (other than the already elsewhere documented history of the era) is memorable. For someone like me who loves the history of before, during and after WWII, this book is nothing but a huge let-down and probably will be the last book of Follett's I will ever read. Pity. I really liked some of his earlier works.

Thus, sadly, it's a 2.00 on Amazon's rating scale and not anywhere close to being worth the outrageous $19.99 Kindle price. This Giant author has fallen far.

Topkapi: The Light of Day
Topkapi: The Light of Day

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Low-Tech Early 1960's Istanbul Gem Heist, November 3, 2012
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"Topkapi: The Light of Day" (first published in 1962) by Eric Ambler (1909-1998) is a classic, of course. It received the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1964. The Edgar Award (named after Edgar Allan Poe) is presented yearly by the Mystery Writers of America.

The story is also famous for the 1964 film "Topkapi," with its all-star cast of Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov, Maximillian Schell, Robert Morley and others, enjoying a more-or-less resemblance to the book's plot. Read the book first.

Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is now a museum. It was the primary residence of Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856.

The main character (for whom Ustinov won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the film version) is a British (though Egyptian born) 50-something fellow named Arthur Simpson. He gets involved with the book's other characters as an anti-hero, working on one hand with the police and on the other hand as an accomplice to the boldly-planned gem heist at the Topkapi Museum. He actually (but barely) survives this faux "double-agent" experience. He narrates the story.

Though not on most lists of "100 Best Mystery Stories," "Topkapi" nonetheless is a fun, funny and clever story - straight out of the low-tech heist action stories of Europe in the early 1960s. For that "throw-back" experience, for its humor, and for its exotic Istanbul setting, the story is well worth a read. It is truly funny, greatly charming, rather conversational, somewhat slow-paced and well-written in the inimitable Eric Ambler style.

Highly recommended with classic-earned 5 stars.

Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day
Agent Garbo: The Brilliant, Eccentric Secret Agent Who Tricked Hitler and Saved D-Day
by Stephan Talty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.31
153 used & new from $0.01

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Calais or Normandy? Whither D-Day?, October 10, 2012
For a non-fiction account of the bold, exceptional deception work of the Spaniard known as Garbo, the British "super-spy" in World War II, "Agent Garbo" by Stephan Talty is pretty darn good.

At times it reads like a novel; at other times it reads like a college undergraduate's term paper. The author imagines some situations, invents some dialogue and creates some thoughts for the key characters, making a reader wonder where these impossible-to-know ideas came from. The references are all at the end of the book, without any citations in the body of the text. Thus, a reader must really work hard to connect the dots -- from quote, claim or conversation -- to an actual non-fiction, verifiable source. There are further miscues with chronology. Much of the time in the last ½ of the book, the chronology jumps back and forth confusingly. There are too many "meanwhile back at the farm" and other herky-jerky time warps.

At times the language employed is simply weird - very unconventional English usage, way too often. And some of the verbiage just didn't make sense.

Frequently, the author seems to magnify and inflate the importance of Garbo, after Garbo is firmly inside the British espionage system, known as XX Committee. Once David Strangeways enters the bigger picture, however, it is manifestly unclear as to whom the credit really goes for the successful D-Day decoy efforts: Strangeways or Agent Garbo. Further, the crucial role of Tommy Harris (with whom Garbo shared an office and all Garbo-related tasks in the think-tank atmosphere of their London intelligence HQ) is melded by the author into Garbo's role and Garbo's accomplishments. Clearly, Garbo was not alone in this undertaking, though often the author would have you believe so. Garbo (Juan Pujol in real life) was a crucial collaborator and key inventor of the super-spy Garbo,, but obviously he was not the only player in the design and deployment of the many deception efforts by the Allies, despite the apparent quiet, unpublicized honors bestowed upon him after the war's end.

The author has open disdain for Dennis Wheatley, the noted British author, who also worked on deception strategies for the Allies. See my review of Tina Rosenberg's brief book, "D for Deception," in which Wheatley's contributions are chronicled.

If you read "Agent Garbo" with an open mind as to exactly how citations are connected to the story and with a dose of skepticism about its ultimate accuracy and its considerable conflation, you'll learn important things you didn't know about the espionage world in WWII, even for those who, like me, absorb WWII history voraciously. There are passages that simply astonish, which, if not mere exaggerations, will fill you with unexpected new appreciation of the work of ordinary people in England during the very bad days of 1940 - 1943.

How does Garbo return to a real life? How does he stop being a spy after a war? In his case, the answer is "not possible." The final pages of the book spell out his really sad life after the War and his ultimate fade-out to a deserted Spanish cemetery.

All-in-all it's a good read, resplendent with all the primary historical figures of the War (Hitler, Churchill, Eisenhower) and told mostly from the sometimes too-narrow viewpoint of Garbo, the creative, outrageous, unheralded (but not really very sympathetic) man whose work contributed to the success of the Allies, particularly around the need to keep secret (and thus deceive the enemy) Allied plans for large-scale invasions, especially that of D-Day.

I give it a 3.30, rounded down to a 2.90 for its lack of clarity regarding sources and for its over-abundance of hyperbole. Ultimately, it's a middle of the road Amazon 3.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 17, 2015 7:13 AM PDT

D for Deception (Kindle Single)
D for Deception (Kindle Single)
Price: $1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Short, Brisk, Non-fiction Account of a British Novelist's True Spymaster Career in WWII, September 7, 2012
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"D for Deception" by Tina Rosenberg is a short (fewer than 100 pages?) non-fiction account which primarily chronicles the 3 WWII years spent in the service of the British war effort by famous English author Dennis Wheatley.

Wheatley (6 January 1897 - 10 November 1977) was one of the world's best-selling authors of "stylish thrillers and occult novels" (see his Wikipedia page) from the 1930's to 1960s. His "successor" is often thought to be Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond 007 novels.

During WWII, Wheatley was a member of the London Controlling Section, whose brainy, creative members worked secretly with the British government and military to create and coordinate strategic deception for Britain and the Allies. It is thought that their major accomplishment was keeping the date and location of the June 1944 invasion of France a total and complete secret from Hitler.

As a chronicle, it is an okay read, neither exciting nor dull, but rather exactly what it purports to be - a modestly detailed account of Wheatley's contributions to the war effort as a master creator of deception against the Hitler war machine. Occasionally, when appropriate, Rosenberg inserts quotations from a relevant Wheatley spy novel to add spice to her non-fiction account.

This little book is neither a biography nor a thriller. But for the Kindle price of $1.99 who can complain if you like the WWII espionage era? It's an average, quick read, harmless yet adding some interesting anecdotes to the storied era of England early in WWII. Though Rosenberg is no great writer, after reading her little book, I now wish all of Wheatley's spy novels from the late 1930's to early 1940s were available on Kindle. Not yet, it seems.

It's an automatic 3.

The Fallen Angel: A Novel (Gabriel Allon Book 12)
The Fallen Angel: A Novel (Gabriel Allon Book 12)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $8.99

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Uncomfortable Mix of Fact and Fiction in a Trifurcated Story-Line, September 4, 2012
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Though I cringed at Page 128 when forced to read one more time about the aging, nearly senile Israeli master spy Ari Shamron (let's respectfully hope it's the final time), the fact that Daniel Silva -- in the preceding 127 pages of "The Fallen Angel" -- had restored a fine sense of art and art history to this novel was heartening. Alas, sadly, Shamron appears again and again in the story and never improves it.

Silva is at his best when describing the tense, time-anxious moments before and during a particular action scene, whether in Berlin, Vienna, Jerusalem or Rome. He's a master at building the plan and the suspense. In "Fallen Angel" he succeeds as usual. The bad-guy capture scenario scene in Berlin and the attempted bomb threat in Vienna were exceptionally well done. The scene under the Temple Mount failed, however, due to too much archaeological history and subsequent preaching about the First Temple.

The first 100+ pages of the story start off innocently enough as a kind of quick-paced, upscale detective story set in Rome with recurring figure Papal Secretary Luigi Donati, friend and confidant of primary character Gabriel Allon, the infamous Israeli assassin and world renowned master art restorer, who is asked by Donati to investigate a murder in the Basilica. But, by Page 135 or so, we're back to the predictable Silva book formula: Israeli revenge against Muslim bad guys, this time Hezbollah, recently funded by Vatican bank protected trade in stolen antiquities. From then on, the trifurcated, loosely held-together plot (the Rome murder; the capture of an Iranian evil-doer in Berlin and his human bomb plot in Vienna; the resolution of the complex story in Jerusalem) rolls out in Silva formulaic manner. The usual violence occurs and the usual people survive, although Allon, himself, is too often reduced to 4 or 5-word sentences.

What's troubling to me in Silva's work, is the uncomfortable mix of fact and fiction as the story unfolds, his relentless uncritical championing the Israeli cause, and his dismissal of even valid criticism of Israeli conduct. The discomfort is that a reader does not know fact from fiction until one reads the "Author's Note" at the end of the book, where Silva confesses to his taking considerable literary license with fact and to his unflinching personal view of the 3,000 year-old conflict between Muslims and Jews. Silva is not at fault here, but his slant is borderline propaganda. As he so capably points out, the book is, after all, fiction. Yes, it is.

I've read, learned from and appreciated each and every one of the 11 books in the Gabriel Allon series. This one is good, and I'm happy that art plays a significant role, but frankly I tire of the relentless political positions that Silva takes. Thus, while his body of work is admirable and while this one is well written, I'm tired of the Allon series generally and found "The Fallen Angel" to be only a 3 on Amazon's rating scale.

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