Snatched From Headlines:
Daniel Silva’s astonishingly topical thrillers have plots that could actually have taken place, outside of the writer’s imagination; in fact, a few of his books have been eerily prescient about goings-on in the world, particularly the Middle East. In The Black Widow (2016), he wrote about terrorist attacks in Paris, and they really happened; in House Of Spies (2017), there is a terror attack in London’s West End, that brings to mind the Manchester carnage. He writes with authority on the many terror trails, and does not mince words on Islamic fundamentalism. His latest, The New Girl, brings to mind the brutal murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was critical of the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia.
For those who have still not encountered Silva’s unique creation, the Israeli spy Gabriel Allon–he was plucked out of art school by his mentor and father figure, Ari Shamron, to join a crack team and avenge the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. When he returned, he had aged much beyond his years and also become almost indestructible, although he came close to death several times. He goes on to become Shamron’s best intelligence officer and assassin in the field, and also the world’s best restorer of art treasures. During the course of the eighteen books in the series, he lost his infant son in a bomb blast that left his first wife, Leah, in an almost vegetative state. He met and fell in love with fellow intelligence operative Chiara and married her. She gave birth to twins and is temporarily out of action, while he has risen to become the much revered and feared Head of the Israeli Secret Intelligence Service.
In this book and a few of the previous ones, Allon has done no art restoring, but when he did, Silva gave readers a concise history of classic works of European art. Ari Shamron flits in and out of his life to offer support and spiritual strength; his friend and rival is Uri Navot, and with him is his loyal team of spies (Mikhail Abramov, Christopher Keller, Eli Lavon among others), computer wizards and destroyers of evil everywhere. The adversary has moved from just Islamic terrorism to include a power-hungry and corrupt Russia; the days of the Cold War returned in his last book, The Other Woman (2018), that spills over into The New Girl.
The other main character in this book, is Khalid bin Mohammed (obviously based Mohammad bin Salman), the crown prince and likely future king of Saudi Arabia. He has angered the conservative faction of his country by introducing some reforms, but also spent lavishly on luxurious homes, planes and yachts. He is accused of clamping down on dissent and also trying to cosy up to the Western world, anticipating the diminishing need for Saudi oil.
When his daughter is kidnapped, Khalid approaches former CIA operative, now art dealer Sarah Bancroft to contact Gabriel Allon for him, and seeks his help in tracing his beloved only child. Allon, who is no friend of Saudi Arabia, still accedes to the request, because there is more to the kidnapping that just ransom money. Internal politics of Russia, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, Iran come to the fore as Allon tries to untangle the web of power and deception, zooming over Saudi Arabia, Iran, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England and Switzerland.
The book is gripping and hardly ever pauses for breath; but it also demands basic information on international politics; those who have read The Other Woman (Silva’s most masterful work) would appreciate it more, because they would know the back story of one of the antagonists, Rebecca Manning.
If there is a minor flaw, it is in the very simplistic way Allon manipulates world leaders. Silva’s books are so addictive, that one wishes he would write more than one a year. But then, they probably wouldn’t be as good. Besides, the anticipation of new book coming out every July adds to the enjoyment of reading it.
The New Girl
By Daniel Silva