First impression: Damn, the man sure knows how to write a dynamite first chapter!
Last impression: Another outstanding book featuring my all-time favorite character, Israel's not-so-secret agent Gabriel Allon (the 15th in the series, I believe) - but it falls a wee bit short of 5 stars.
That said, Daniel Silva may be the only writer on the planet who can make me want to read stories involving Hezbollah, al-Qaeda or the IRA. This book takes off where the previous one ended, with Gabriel planning to take over as chief of "The Office" - a role that presumably with put the brakes on in-the-field action. He's also preparing for fatherhood once again; his younger, beautiful wife Chiara is close to delivering twins (Gabriel's young son from his first marriage was killed in a terrorist explosion).
But as one might expect in the world of espionage, nothing is a sure thing. An English princess (loosely based on the late Princess Diana, the author says) is killed while on a yacht by an assassin linked to the IRA. Against his will - Gabriel wants to finish restoration of a major painting and spend the final weeks with his wife before the twins arrive - he's coerced into joining forces with Christopher Keller, an Englishman who is being recruited as a spy for M16.
The trail leads to Eamon Quinn, who excels at making highly destructive bombs that kill lots of innocent people; apparently, he was hired to blow up that yacht, so the two men set out to learn who put up the money for the hit. The chase takes them to a variety of settings, most of which have appeared in previous books, where they go gun-to-knife with a variety of characters (ditto). The whole thing seems to be a wrap-up of everything that's happened before in a neat and tidy (well, sometimes, messy) bow, thus freeing up Gabriel to take over a desk job and, perhaps, paving the way for future books with new M16 agent Chris Keller in the lead role. That being the case, you bet I'll be reading them - but make no mistake: He'll never top Gabriel as my favorite character.
And that, I suppose, is why I couldn't quite muster up 5 stars; there were just too many characters and too much description of past situations (although, I admit, they were necessary to the tidying up process). Then too, the almost total absence of the Chiara was noticeable - I think I may have missed her even more than Gabriel does. I'll also note that there seems to be a bit more emphasis on politics than usual - on U.S.-Israel relations, for instance (for a while, I suspected Silva was channeling another of my favorite writers, Brad Thor). But clearly, Silva has done extensive research on the subject, and for the most part, the political insights enhanced the story (and goodness knows, tensions between the US. of A and Israel have been strained of late).
On the plus side, Silva's writing goes way beyond excellent (as usual), and I enjoyed the occasional touches of spy humor:
Chris to Gabriel as they abduct an errant bad guy: "I hope he'll fit in the trunk."
Gabriel: "We'll slam the lid on him a few times if we have to."
In the end, Silva has put forth yet another excellent work. Now I can't wait to see how Gabriel transitions to his new roles of team leader and dad to twins (SPOILER ALERT!!) Irene and Raphael.
The English Spy by Daniel Silva (Harper, June 2015); 496 pp.