With the terrorism plot in London just upon us in real life, it seems that bestselling thriller writer Daniel Silva could not have picked a better time for the release of his latest book,The Secret Servant
. Because it is in London that this story reaches its high point, in an England that as the main character Gabriel Allon notes has become the No. 1 target for Muslim extremists. Even more than the United States.
Main character Gabriel Allon is a wonderful creation in spy thriller fiction. Fans of Silva’s previous books (among them The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire and The Messenger), are well acquainted with Allon who uses his work as a major art restorer as cover for his sometime Israeli intelligence jobs.
In The Secret Servant Allon is at a true crossroads. He is finally on the verge of remarrying after years of standing by his first wife who has had only brief periods of lucidity since she was hurt by his enemies. His son is dead in a grave on the Mount of Olives. Allon’s cover story is showing signs of wear and tear. He is older and exposed as leaks and photographs of him get out to the outside world. His old leader Shamron is pressing him to come in and become head of the Israeli spy agency.
The story begins in Amsterdam where a professor who has written warnings about the Netherlands being overtaken by jihadist Islam is murdered on the street (echoing the real-life murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an unemployed Dutch-Moroccan immigrant from Amsterdam). As it turns out this professor was working for Israeli intelligence, feeding it reports on what the imams were saying to the disaffected Muslim youth in his city. Allon is sent to retrieve any records that might prove embarrassing to Israel.
Once there, he is informed of possible terrorist action that would devastate London. His informant, a former member of a radical Islamic organization, provides the basis for a key philosophical question in this book: Can extremists ever change their colors and renounce violence?
Silva’s take is strongly pro-Jewish. He condemns Muslim extremists’ call to martyrdom, their suicide bombers and their excuses for killing innocents. Allon and the other Israeli agents accept as a fact of life that Europe is still anti-Semitic, that thanks to its lack of restrictions on and interest in the Muslims who settled there, it has created a monster of violent thought that is overtaking it now.
At the same time, Silva spares nothing when he takes apart the secular Egyptian government under Hosni Mubarak and the torture its security force inflicts upon fundamentalist Muslims, afraid that one day they will rise up and take over the country.
America and its intelligence community come into the story when Elizabeth Halton, daughter of the American ambassador to the Court of St. James, is kidnapped and held for exchange with an imprisoned fundamentalist Muslim leader.
Silva began his career as a foreign correspondent for UPI before turning to fiction writing full time, a background reflected in the amount of research he puts into his stories.
His stories are fast paced, well researched, and compelling. He is known for his twists and turns, which accelerate as the books draw to an end. Beyond that, there is a sense here of melancholy, of turning points missed and of lives sacrificed to mistaken ideals. And it is that extra layer complete with no easy answers that lifts Silva’s writing to the top levels of fiction today. -- Margaret Downing
The Secret Servant, by Daniel Silva. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $25.95.