26 July 2016
Daniel Silva: The Unlikely Spy
I have read all of Silva's Gabriel Allon series but this is the first time I have read his debut novel about espionage and deception during the latter stages of WWII. Ken Follett covered a similar theme in "Eye of the Needle" and Jack Higgins in "Night of the Fox". Both of those books were brilliant but on balance, I think that "The Unlikely Spy" is the best.
We all know now that the Allied Forces were able to successfully confuse the D-Day landing location from Hitler. Thousands of deaths were possibly saved because Hitler concentrated his defensive forces around Calais and left the Normandy coast comparatively lightly defended. There are many stories of how British intelligence helped Hitler to choose the wrong invasion point - this is a brilliant fictional story of how this happened.
The main character is Alfred Vicary, a Professor of History who is drafted by an old friend, Winston Churchill to join MI5. Vicary takes to espionage like a duck to water following Churchill's adage that in war "truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies." Vicary has tracked down most German spies, imprisoned them and continues to send deceptive messages back to Germany. But he hasn't tracked down a handful of "sleeper" operatives sent over before the war by Kurt Vogel, one of Admiral Canaris's top spymasters.
One of these operatives is Catherine Blake, a beautiful ruthless psychopathic assassin, and spy, who remains inactive in London until a key part of the war - the preparations for the D-Day landings. Her assignment is to become romantically involved with Peter Jordan, an American engineer working on a top-secret D-Day project and report back on where the landings will take place.
There follows a tale of deception on a grand scale both with the spies and within MI5. Silva writes a masterly plot with fascinating characters on both sides of the action-packed battle. While some of the deceptions fail, the ultimate deception is not known until the very last pages. This is definitely a 5-star espionage story.
This is a wonderful debut novel written in 1996 by an author who has gone on to become a world-renowned best-selling author with his Gavriel Allon series about an Israeli art restorer, spy, and assassin. I look forward to reading the next book in this brilliant series, "The Black Widow", in the next few days.