Though a new thriller in Daniel Silva’s remarkable Gabriel Allon series has become a calendar entry for his many fans worldwide each summer, I’ve never thought of these books as “summer reads.” By cliché, if not always in fact, summer reads equal mindless escape, serving up thrills, chills, exotic settings, danger, car chases, shootouts, romance and probably some sex before the last page is turned.
Except for exotic settings, it would be tough to squeeze any Allon novel, much less the latest titled The New Girl, into a summer-read straightjacket. Reading Silva’s series might well require, but certainly rewards and motivates, a careful reading of each day’s national and especially international news, with a special focus on anything involving Israel. Meaning, just about anything.
His first name inspired by the archangel Gabriel, Allon is a gifted restorer of Italian art who was recruited to be an assassin after the murderous Black September attacks on Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He proved very good at this work – an art restorer needs a steady hand – and, through book after wonderful, compelling, thought-provoking book, has risen to the top spot of Israeli intelligence.
Along the way, Allon has developed many friends and, if such a thing is possible, even more enemies. Many of both exist in the Arab sphere, from terrorists bent on Israel’s destruction and a new Palestinian homeland to those calmer heads who keep trying, often failing, to prevail. Not least, since both Israelis and Arabs share Semitic roots in the bleak deserts of Scripture, neither is likely to be telling the truth at any given moment. Still, all that said, in any recent Allon book, the ultimate enemy of Israel, Great Britain, the United States and indeed any sort of decently democratic world is Russia.
We’ve met those guys, yes? And not just during the Cold War. And not just in several Allon books. They’re the people, under the direction of the man known as The Tsar, who topple governments and decide American elections from their laptops. And now, in The New Girl, as the United States withdraws from the Middle East into its own hate-filled, dangerously naïve nativism, The Tsar, his heartless oligarchs and their own amoral secret service see a big chance to step in.
The New Girl is a rollercoaster ride through timely fact blasted through with entirely persuasive fiction, and the 2016 American elections are only the starting point. We have the real-life murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reborn as the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Omar Nawwaf. And we have the blame falling squarely on impulsive Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, reborn here as impulsive Saudi crown prince Khalid bin Mohammed, known as KBM.
Silva, a long-time journalist with sources throughout the Middle East as well as London and Washington (meaning mostly the CIA in Langley, Va.) has another, more interesting and perhaps more hopeful story to tell. His yarn spills over several countries on opposite shores of several oceans and seas, each with a difficult past, and each littered with pride, ambition and a deadly fallibility. He tells his story with knowledge, political understanding and no small amount of human warmth from the first page to the last.
In Silva’s books, few people are abject monsters beyond redemption – that last a theme the author returns to again and again, for even the great Gabriel Allon of art and archangel seems in constant need of it, from his wife, his children, his aging mentor and even from his art. Only the Russians emerge here as abject monsters, most who matter decidedly beyond redemption. But Daniel Silva apparently can’t help himself. He’s a journalist dealing with the facts, after all.