Saturday, September 14, 2013


HARPER (HarperCollins Publishers) – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Daniel Silva
ISBN: 978-0-06-207316-7; hardcover (July 16, 2013)
492pp, B&W, $27.99 U.S.

Number-one New York Times bestselling writer Daniel Silva has a new novel, The English Girl.  In fact, The English Girl debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List for “Hardcover Fiction” for the week of August 4, 2013.  It debuted at #2 the same week on the Times’ “Combined Print and E-Book Fiction” list where it stayed for two weeks behind the #1 book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, J.K. Rowling’s stunt book that she published under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith.

The English Girl, a spy and espionage novel, is the thirteenth book in Silva’s “Gabriel Allon series,” which began with The Kill Artist (2000).  Gabriel Allon is a master assassin and spy for the Israeli secret service, and in his downtime, he is an art restorer.  In The English Girl, Allon helps the British Prime Minister after his lover is kidnapped.

The English Girl opens with a tale of 27-year-old Madeline Hart, an English girl on vacation on the island of Corsica.  She is an up-and-coming star in British politics, and she is also having an affair with British Prime Minister Jonathan Lancaster.  And that gets her kidnapped by a shadowy group of French criminals seeking to blackmail Lancaster.  The kidnappers want ten million euros – the cost of getting the safe return of his lover.

Enter Gabriel Allon, an art restorer.  His current restoration project is the painting, Susanna and the Elders by Jacopo Bassano.  He has to put that on hold when an old friend, Graham Seymour, MI5’s counterterrorism officer, calls in a favor.  Now, Gabriel has less than seven days to find Madeline and bring her home safely.  He needs help:  “someone extremely capable, utterly ruthless, and without a shred of conscience.”  Gabriel gets that in former SAS (Special Air Services) officer-turned hired killer, Christopher Keller.  Even with the ruthless Keller at his side, Gabriel may not be able to unravel a mystery in which nothing is what it seems.

Daniel Silva divides The English Girl into three parts:  Part One: The Hostage; Part Two: The Spy; and Part Three: Scandal.  While reading “The Hostage,” I was reminded of director John Frankenheimer’s thoroughly underrated thriller, the film Ronin (starring Robert DeNiro and Jean Reno).  “The Spy” reminded me of the first Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film and of Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning, Argo.  “Scandal” reminded me of what it is like to read about a political scandal that dominates the headlines for several weeks, secrets slowly being revealed via countless newspaper and magazine articles that arrive almost daily – each with a shocking new revelation.

So, in a sense, The English Girl is two novels and a short story, and each one offers a different mood or the reading equivalent of a musical note.  The Hostage is a pulse-pounding thriller, and my favorite part of the book.  The Spy is spy fiction as a heist movie with a jazzy score.  Scandal is the wrap-up.  And it is all good reading.

I have to admit that for quite a while, I had trouble warming up to an Israeli assassin who kills people with the ease others use to punch a time clock.  Perhaps, Mr. 007 is the only literary creation that I can accept as a character that kills with impunity.  However, I eventually warmed up to Gabriel Allon, a man haunted not only by his past, but the pasts of many others, and a man who is bothered by present circumstances.

Just in time to give Summer 2013 a roiling end comes an excellent summer potboiler, The English Girl.  Save the money you would spend on a few bad blockbuster movies and buy a copy of The English Girl, instead.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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