5 stars out of 5
It's hard to believe this is the 16th book in the series featuring Gabriel Allon, perhaps my all-time favorite "hero." He's a sought-after restorer of priceless paintings, a spy, soon-to-be chief of Israel's secret intelligence service (albeit reluctantly) and, with his beautiful wife Chiara, the recent father of twins Raphael and Irene. So much do I love the books that I didn't even break a sweat at the thought of 544 pages - much longer than most books I read these days - and once I started, I admit to getting testy when something or someone interrupted my progress. By the end of the first few chapters, I knew this would be a 5-star-plus read for me.
That doesn't mean, however, that a few things weren't a bit bothersome - the first of which is that the emphasis is far more on politics and history than on the characters. Chiara barely plays a role, and even Gabriel doesn't seem to be at the forefront as much as in previous books. There is almost tedious detail about the relationships (pro and con) among various countries like Israel, France and Syria, and the author makes it abundantly clear what side of the political fence he's on. That's not all bad, mind you; even though I've crabbed about other authors' crossing the line of putting their personal political agendas ahead of the story - and this one comes close to doing just that - Silva manages to write around it all in such an interesting, totally engaging way that in the end it didn't matter a whit to me (the historical parts, in fact, I thoroughly enjoyed).
As the book begins, Gabriel hasn't yet assumed the mantle of intelligence chief; in fact, he's officially dead (not really, of course, but for all intents and purposes beyond the Israeli agency, he was killed off a while back). Just as he's about to be resurrected to take on his new responsibilities, ISIS sets off a bomb in Paris. With so many dead and wounded and the entire country in shock, the French government seeks help from Gabriel and his agency in finding out who was behind the dirty deed.
It's an offer Gabriel can't refuse, and he sets off on what could be his final mission before "retiring" behind a desk (assuming he survives, of course). Early on, he recruits and trains a multi-national Jewish female doctor named Natalie who will infiltrate the ranks of ISIS in the hope of getting close enough to the caliphate to learn what the next target(s) will be. In fact, the book is more her story than Gabriel's; she is to be transformed into a Muslim "Black Widow," - a woman who lost a husband at the hands of non-Muslim terrorism and wants nothing more than revenge (and the glory that will come when she dies as a martyr).
The story follows all that happens to her as well as the interaction among the government agencies that are involved. In between are chases that lead to blind alleys, shady characters doing their thing and horrific strikes, and threats of even more strikes, by ISIS terrorists. Can Gabriel and his team (with the help of the good doctor) bring whoever is running the ISIS show to his knees in time to prevent an even more horrendous disaster? I know the answer, and if you read this terrific book, so will you.
The Black Widow by Daniel Silva (Harper, July 2016); 544 pp.