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29 June 2015

Daniel Silva: The English Spy

Masterly international espionage thriller
Once again Daniel Silva has shown us that he is a master of espionage thrillers. This is #15 in the Gabriel Allon series and I am always fascinated how top writers are able to maintain the quality and momentum of a series. Silva has done this in a masterly way by bringing together a collection of characters and events from some of his previous books and built them into a riveting thriller.

Israeli spymaster Gabriel Allon is facing two major hurdles in his life, one he is looking forward to and one he isn't. Soon he will become a father again - his wife Chiara is carrying twins. Then he will be forced to become head of "The Office" and no longer be called to work in the field. He reflects that "the life of a professional spy is one of constant travel, mind-numbing boredom broken by interludes of sheer terror".

Before either happens he has to hunt down master Irish bombmaker Eamon Quinn who not only killed and maimed hundreds in Northern Ireland but after a spell of training in Libya, has spread his death and destruction around the world, including the Middle East. Quinn's latest mayhem was a contract for the destruction of a luxury private yacht/cruiser in the Caribbean to assassinate a royal princess (loosely and insensitively modelled on Princess Diana).

On learning that Quinn was the bomber Gabriel sets out find him and find out who he is working for. He recruits Christopher Keller to help him - a former British commando who knows Quinn too well from painful experience in Northern Ireland. The experience was so painful that he has spent the last few years in exile in Corsica working as a professional assassin. Gabriel sets out to bring Keller back into the fold with the help of Graham Seymour of MI6 - hence the book title when Keller becomes an English spy.

As the story sweeps from Moscow to Vienna, Hamburg, London, Cornwall and eventually Belfast it becomes increasingly clear that the assassination of a princess was set up to flush out and destroy Allon (which it nearly did). It is a masterly story of spycraft and cooperation between spy agencies to defeat what could be one of the biggest terrorist threats in years. Silva effortlessly and confidently moves between characters and events from previous novels in the series to build up tensions, disasters and an eventual bloody climax. In the spy business "Our mistakes always come back to haunt us. And eventually all debts come due."

The end of the story may be the end of Gabriel's field experience but with Israel's current position in the Middle East it is surely not the end of his career as a master spymaster. I would highly recommend this book as an example of how a long running series can be kept fresh. While it helps to have read earlier books, the back-story is so well written that the book can be read standalone.  My only reservations are the insensitive use of the assassination of a princess - when we all know that she died in a car crash in Paris - and the inappropriate book covers for both Australia and the US which illustrate parts of London that don't feature in the book.

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