Wednesday, November 10, 2010

{review} daniel silva

Daniel Silva Moscow Rules (2008)
Daniel Silva The Defector (2009)

Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon)  The Defector (Gabriel Allon)

Almost every time I read the latest in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series, I think to myself, 'I must go and read these all again'. Silva is a master craftsman: characterisation, settings, plot, everything. I can't rate his books highly enough in their genre (um...? Fanciful espionage with a pro-Israeli slant). He also writes really well, which helps. 

Gabriel Allon is an assassin and master spy, but a reluctant one: trained as the lead assassin in the hunt for the Munich terrorists, he now tries to live a peaceful life as an art restorer. This is a neat variation on 'tough guy with a quirk'. But, of course, his loyalty lies with the Israeli intelligence service and his peaceful existence is constantly jeopardized by his masters and their many enemies, because Allon is good at killing: "Gabriel put him down as if he were a target on a training range: three tightly grouped shots to the center of the body, one to the head for style points."

In Moscow Rules, the newly-married Allon is pulled from his honeymoon (restoring a Poussin for the Vatican in Umbria) to meet a Russian journalist who has news of a threat to Israel and the West. The journalist is assassinated at the meeting place (St Peter's Basilica in Rome!) and Allon sets out to investigate the threat. The story involves elaborate deceptions, art forgery, kidnappings in exotic locations - Moscow, St Tropez, etc. - and ends with Allon barely escaping Russia with his life, along with two dissident defectors and the wife and children of an ex-KGB Russian 'oligarch' and arms-dealer.

There were some typical moments of Silva's keen eye for detail: "The Kremlin's Trinity Tower was nearly lost in a gauzy shroud of exhaust fumes, its famous red star looking sadly like just another advertisement for an imported luxury good."

The Defector picks up the action almost immediately (indeed, almost as though it was meant to be part of the first book?): the Russian arms-dealer strikes back against the defectors, now living in London, and Allon's pregnant wife becomes a bargaining chip in the oligarch's fight to get his children back from US protection.

It must be tricky writing your eleventh and twelfth books in a long series. Those who've never picked one up before require some essential information; those who are diehard fans want to catch up on favourite characters who will need introducing to the newbies. Gabriel Allon's past assignments have all added certain facets to his history - two wives, lovers, friends and enemies in the intelligence services of many countries, his best mate the Pope, that sort of thing. Silva has a more tricky job to pull this together than, say, Lee Child with his Jack Reacher series - the loner with no family and few allies doesn't require quite the same level of back history transmission.

And this brings me to a problem. I thought that Moscow Rules was typically quality Silva material - interesting story, great locations, lots of tension, a few more well-drawn characters, reunions with old friends, and the typical scenario of an elaborate mission spiralling out of control but saved by a timely miracle. Silva could do this in his sleep but his standards here are high. Then we come to The Defector, which I read straight after Moscow Rules. Chunks of The Defector are lifted straight from the prequel. Almost word for word. The CIA's Adrian Carter is again introduced using what was an original turn of phrase in Moscow Rules: "He had... a mustache that had gone out of fashion with disco music, Crock-Pots, and the nuclear freeze." Fine, it's tricky to introduce everyone again, but this was lazy recycling. I thought The Defector was formulaic and lacking the well-drawn tension of the other books. It is a book of fast action and much brutality, but there didn't seem to be a bigger picture: Allon's mission here is personal, not national. I hope that this was just a lapse and the next one (The Rembrandt Affair) will be back to the high quality I expect from a Daniel Silva novel.

Something that made me laugh. I had to read "They were executioners and kidnappers, buggers and blackmailers..." twice! 

Rating: Moscow Rules 7/10, The Defector 5/10.

If you liked these... Daniel Silva honed his craft on the excellent The Unlikely Spy, set in England in WW2.

The Unlikely Spy  The Rembrandt Affair (Gabriel Allon)

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