Love and Ruin by Paula McLain – Book

 

Paula McLain wrote about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson in her novel, The Paris Wife and, this time, in Love and Ruin she writes about Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn. I can understand the fascination with the women who married this literary giant. What kind of woman does such a legendary figure find himself attracted to? Hemingway was a handsome guy. Women found him desirable. It is almost tempting to wonder why only four women. But Hemingway sounds like he was not really a “ladies man”. He spent most of his social hours with men. He also seems to have seen women as occupying pretty traditional roles in a marriage, although he seems to have treated his wives as companions some of the time. Everyone in Hemingway’s world had a nickname.

Some readers do not value a fictional account of a Hemingway wife as they would a nonfiction one, but Paula McLain does do her homework, which she describes after the novel ends. So Love and Ruin is grounded in fact. But the day-to-day exchanges in a marriage are usually private business between husband and wife, although friends are privy to some of it, and can only be imagined in fiction.

Martha Gellhorn and her mother were recovering from the death of Martha’s father when they made a trip to somewhere as different and faraway as they could get without complicated travel arrangements. They fled to Key West and who should they meet in a bar almost immediately upon their arrival but Ernest Hemingway.

Both mother and daughter were pretty, long-legged and not at all shy. Ernest, married to Pauline Pfeiffer (Fife) with three boys (two from his first marriage) had his home, with his wife, right there in Key West. But he offered these two Gellhorn women a tour of the island. It was then he found out that Martha Gellhorn was a published writer. He began their relationship as her mentor. She was quite a bit younger. It seemed innocent enough.

If they had never gone off to report on the Spanish Civil War (Franco) at the same time (together) they might never have fallen in love and broken up Hemingway’s thirteen year marriage to Pauline. But Martha Gellhorn was not a “little wife” type of girl. She always wanted to be at the center of the biggest storm. She wanted to live life and she insisted that involved covering events like wars that only men generally wrote about. She and Ernest began as fellow war writers; she for Colliers, he making notes for a novel. Both felt more alive when death was everywhere around them.

When they needed to get away from the war they fled to Cuba, a place that Hemingway loved almost as much as Key West. They could not go to Key West because Hemingway was still married to Pauline. Martha found an old Cuban farm and when her book sold she used the money to restore it. It became the famous Finca where Hemingway still resided at the end of his live.

Martha imagined a sort of nirvana, with two writers living and sharing their craft, but Hemingway did not cooperate. He was demanding and selfish, and loving and ardent, and a partier and a hard drinker. Martha often found him exasperating. But just before World War II began Hemingway and Pauline divorced and Martha and Ernest married. They went to Hawaii for their honeymoon but trouble already was brewing. Martha had an independent streak that Hemingway despised and when she wanted to go off on her own to work or visit home he pouted and acted out. Although they both went off to London to cover the war they were more like rivals than sweethearts by then. Their marriage barely survived the war.

Martha Gellhorn went on to have her own career as a writer of some fame and Hemingway wrote one of my favorite books Islands in the Stream. Hemingway remarried to Mary Walsh, a bond that lasted until they both died in a plane crash in Africa. We leave Martha behind when her marriage to Hemingway ends which belies the contention that this is a book about Martha Gellhorn. It is a book about a Hemingway wife, but one stamped out of such an independent and adventurous mold that the marriage was doomed to end in ruin. It made me aware of her as a writer and a dashing person who was ahead of history, and an admirable person in her own right.

You will have to decide about the fiction/nonfiction choice for yourself and also about whether or not this is a “chick” book. But Martha Gellhorn is worthy of our attention and Paula McLain made her quite real. A worthwhile read.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mosfegh – Book

Do we act the way we do because of nature or nurture? Is our behavior inevitable, either genetically, or by upbringing, or do we always bear final responsibility for the way we behave? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Literally. If you consider the cover of My Year of Rest and Relaxationby Ottessa Mosfegh you might expect period fiction, but what you get is something quite of-the-minute, new and fresh right down to its bones. The young women our attention is focused on does not even have a name, perhaps because the book is written in the first person, but perhaps with some symbolic significance also.

We listen to a pretty, blonde, thin, 26-year-old who is already exhausted by life. She finds no authenticity anywhere, nothing to dedicate herself to, nothing to love, even, apparently herself. She nails the superficialities of various “cultural tribes” she is surrounded by at Columbia and in her neighborhood. The 40-something moms on the upper East Side come under her judgmental perusal as do the young males in the art history department at her college and the avant-garde artists who exhibit at the gallery where she works. She finds little to really admire in her handsome on-again, off-again boyfriend, Trevor, or her best friend Reva. Only Harrison Ford and Whoopi Goldberg escape her societal ennui.

When she is a junior at Columbia art school she loses both of her parents. Her parents were not exactly warm and fuzzy.About her mother she says:“She was not the type to sit and watch me draw or read me books or play games or go for walks in the park or bake brownies. We got along best when we were asleep.”“My father slept on the sofa in the den that year.”“None of us had much warmth in our hearts. I was never allowed to have any pets. Sometimes I think a puppy might have changed everything. My parents died one after the other my junior year of college – first my dad from cancer, then my mother from pills and alcohol six weeks later.

Is our girl experiencing some kind of separation anxiety or does the loss of even bad parents cause us grief? Did her family’s inability to connect destroy her ability to feel empathy and affection? She decides that she will sleep for a year and then wake up a new person. Her inheritance from her parents allows her this option and she gets to sleep through the year in a very nice apartment on East 84thSt. which she owns outright.

But it is not so easy to sleep for an entire year. A psychiatrist must be found who has few compunctions about using a prescription pad. Dr. Tuttle is perfect, a real psycho-babble nut who knows her way around insurance rules. Pretty soon our blondie’s life becomes a long list of meds that she pops or guzzles whenever sleep is hard to find. Trazodone, Ambien, Nembutal, Solfolton, Xanax, Lithium, Haldol, Neuroproxin, Maxiphenphen, Valdignor, Silencior, Benadryl, Robitussin, NyQuil, Seconals, Libriums, Pacidyls, Noctecs, Miltowns, Lunesta, primidone and Risperdal, chewable melatonin…until she meets the ultimate sleep drug, Infermiterol. Too bad Infermiterol has one very worrisome side effect.

Even after a couple of months of chemical abuse our sleepy-head, catching sight of herself in the lobby mirror on one of her rare trips to the Egyptian bodega down the street says, “But I was tall and thin and blond and pretty and young. Even at my worst, I knew I still looked good.” But we wonder if anyone could actually survive on this much medication.

We have only covered two somnolent months of a long year. There is plenty more to this story. Do we care about this young lady? Should we care about her? Is there a message to this madness? Only you can decide. But for people who are tired of conventional fiction this certainly isn’t that. Just the gutsiness that comes up with fiction like this makes it well worth a read. Does it matter that our girl’s long sleep ends at a significant historical moment?

I keep thinking about this one trying to care about this character. My admiration is more for form than any significance to the human condition at this point. Some books have to percolate. I also have a few caveats. One, don’t try this at home. Two, many of these scripts did not work as sleep aids. Three, as an experiment in rebirth, the outcome seems inconclusive.

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The Defector by Daniel Silva – Book

In order to fully understand The Defector (Bk. 9, Gabriel Allon Series) by Daniel Silva it is helpful to recall the events at the end of Moscow Rules (Bk. 8, Gabriel Allon Series). Gabriel manages to escape from Russia (barely) with a Russian journalist, Olga Sukhova, whose colleagues have been assassinated, and with a man, Grigori Bulganov, who saved Gabriel’s life by making sure he did not die in Lubyanka, the Russian prison.

In The Defector we find out what Bulganov is up to in his new home, London. Silva, Daniel Silva, the author, calls London a Russian city because so many dispossessed Russians live there. Olga Sukhova, also in London with a new identity, is keeping a low profile. But Grigori is tempted out of hiding by another Russian who lives the high life in London.

When Grigori disappears on his way to a Chess game, Graham Seymour, head of British Intelligence, is not terribly upset. He decides that Grigori has become homesick and has “un” defected. However, when Gabriel Allon hears that Grigori is gone he has a different reaction. For one thing he knows that a very bad and powerful oligarch, Ivan Kharkov is still alive and well, although he has to stay in Russia for now. Gabriel also knows that he was able to help Ivan’s ex-wife Elena liberate some of Ivan’s money ($20 million) from a Swiss Bank. Since Elena is in protective custody in an unknown location with the couple’s two children, she needs that money. But you can imagine how much Ivan wants to get his hands on Elena, his children, and Gabriel. Since he can’t leave Russia right now, he must find a way to bring everyone to him.

Ivan Kharkov is a stone-cold bully boy who makes his money selling Russian weapons to people the rest of the world wants to keep weapons away from. Ivan’s hero is Stalin and he strives to model his behavior on the cruelty Stalin used as he purged (killed or tortured) any Russian citizen who he imagined might harbor sentients against his government (regime). Ivan managed to buy the dacha that once was Stalin’s summer home. Ivan uses his dacha to reenact Stalin’s bloody purges on a smaller scale.

When Gabriel doesn’t react right away to the disappearance of Grigori Ivan takes someone else and who he takes definitely gets Gabriel and his team moving.

Daniel Silva and his Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, along with his team of Israeli operatives, expose bad actors all around Europe and the Middle East and offer up the satisfaction of giving them what they deserve in fiction, even though we often do not experience such justice in real life. When The Defector ends are we finally shut of Ivan Kharkov? My lips are sealed.

In notes at the conclusion of The Defector, Silva connects his fictional spy story to actual historical events that inspired it.

“There, from August 1937 to October 1938, an estimated twenty thousand people were shot in the back of the head and buried in long mass graves. I visited the recently opened memorial at Butovo with my family in the summer of 2007 while researching Moscow Rules, and in large measure it inspired The Defector. One question haunted me as I walked slowly past the burial trenches, accompanied by weeping Russian citizens. Why are there not more places like this? Places where ordinary Russians can see evidence of Stalin’s unimaginable crimes with their own eyes. The answer, of course, is that the rulers of the New Russia are not terribly interesting in exposing the sins of the Soviet past. On the contrary, they are engaged in a carefully orchestrated endeavor to airbrush away its most repulsive aspects while celebrating it achievements. The NKVD, which carried out the Great Terror at Stalin’s behest, was the forerunner of the KGB. And former officers of the KGB, including Vladimir Putin himself, are now running Russia.” -Author’s Note

Photo credit: From a Google Image Search, Daemon Books

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje – Book

Michael Ondaatje never writes an ordinary book, at least in my estimation. His books put me in a reverie of unique experiences lived in far off places and times. In his novel, Warlight he writes of some of the people of England and London who performed secret services all over Europe and the Baltic states during World War II. These services had to be kept so discreet that it is difficult for these members of the intelligence service to reenter their prewar lives.

Wars don’t end on the day that a treaty is made. The hurts, the resentments, the losses stay with people affected by wars. People swear to avenge their loved ones from cruel strikes perhaps necessitated by war, but still seen as desecrations. Strategy may deem it appropriate to level a village but the relatives and friends or absent residents cannot rationalize. They carry their shock with them and they nurse their anger and they vow they will seek retribution.

When first their dad and then their mom leave, Nathaniel and his older sister Rachel are in their early teens. They think their mom has gone to Singapore to be with their dad who was sent there by his company, until they discover her carefully packed trunk in the basement of the family home in London.

These two have been left in the care of a man called The Moth, a rather lackadaisical caretaker, and all that was orderly about their lives falls away. Rachel (nicknamed Wren by her mother) learns that she has epilepsy and of course she is a girl so what she experiences is quite different from what Nathaniel is allowed to get involved with. The Moth is soon joined by another character, The Darter.

Nathaniel is allowed to work with the immigrant staff overseen by Moth at Criterion’s Banquet Halls, setting up for events and washing dishes. Later he helps The Darter smuggle greyhounds into unsanctioned race tracks through keeping a schedule of nighttime pickups at various stops along a network of rivers and streams near London. Nathaniel is the narrator of Warlight but he does not know why his mom left him and his sister with these strange guardians.

As a grown man Nathaniel (who was nicknamed Stitch by his mother, Rose), is offered a job going through the archives collected during World War II, and although he has been reunited with his mother, her continued secrecy prods him to take the job. He begins to learn about what his mom did during the war and how it has followed her home, why she feels she endangers her own children. With great detail Ondaatje creates a world of lives lived outside the mainstream, interesting but slightly dodgy lives. Rose’s caretaker picks prove wiser than they seem.

Ondaatje reminds us that the human memory is long and that there are rarely clear demarcations between one event and the next, in fact the more complex and heartrending events leave traces that may never quite go away. He teaches us that life, like certain passages in music has moments that can best be described by a term Mahler uses to mark a passage that is difficult or heavy. Life can be schwer. I think you will love learning Rose’s story along with Nathaniel, and how it intertwines with that of Marsh Felon, a thatcher’s son who once fell off the family’s roof and had to mend on a cot in their kitchen. And just to add a bit more mystery, you will find out about Viola and many more ordinary heroes.

Find me on Goodreads at Nancy Brisson.

Photo credit: Google Image Search – Lawn Gnomes Publishing

A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva – Book

Three of the books I have read in the Gabriel Allon series, Daniel Silva tells us in the end notes of A Death in Vienna, are thematically related. They each are “dealing with the unfinished business of the Holocaust.” In The English AssassinSilva looks at “art looting” and the “collaboration of Swiss banks”. In The Confessorhe looks at the “role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and the silence of Pope Pius XII. In A Death in Viennahe looks into Aktion 1005 which was “the real code name of the Nazi program to conceal and destroy the remains of millions of Jewish dead” and the activities of Bishop Aloïs Hudal “rector of the Pontificio Santa Maria dell’Anima, who helped hundreds of Nazi war criminals flee Europe.” He tells us that the Vatican still maintains the Bishop acted without the knowledge of the pope. It is unusual for a thriller to have an Israeli subtext, and it takes skill on the part of the author to expose real wrongs while his novel still unfolds as an exciting puzzle for a spy, or spy organization, to solve.

This tale begins with a bomb at the Wartime Claims and Inquiry Office. Eli Lavon, who runs this office is critically injured. His employees, Reveka and Sarah are killed. Eli Lavon is an Israeli but he has a closer connection to the Israeli Secret Service known as the Office. In the early 70’s he worked for them and the skills he possesses are legendary. Gabriel, art restorer and Israeli spy, leaves another Bellini in another Venetian Cathedral to find out why the Wartime Claims and Inquiry Office was bombed and why his friend Eli Lavon is lying unconscious in a hospital in Vienna.

Clues lead Allon to a Nazi hiding under a new name in Vienna. At least he seems to be this certain Nazi, but research is necessary to confirm it, even involving travel to South America. This hidden Nazi basically worked for the Germans as an eraser. Mass graves full of dead bodies were beginning to show signs of what had been hidden under too little earth. It was this man’s job to uncover these putrefying mass graves full of Jewish people who had been gassed or executed and to sanitize them by burning the remains and scattering the ashes. Of course this would also erase any evidence of what the German’s had been doing. This particular Nazi had value because he had devised a way to make a fire that was hot enough to do the sad job. He used Jewish prisoners to do the macabre work and the ashes and bones were moved to local rivers and streams. He never got to erase all of the evidence because the German’s ran out of time and lost the war.

This eraser man, like many Nazi’s saw himself as culturally sensitive because he loved great art and music. Since he did not actually get his hands dirty he apparently did not feel that the inhumanity of what he did compromised his elitism. He accompanied Gabriel’s mother on the Death March out of the “camps”. He killed survivors on the way out if they gave the wrong answer to the question “What will you tell the world and your children?” He once spent on day on a railroad platform forcing a Jewish man to play a classical piece of music over and over again. This Nazi on the rise asked arriving prisoners if they knew the name of the music. If they didn’t know he shot them.

Does such a man deserve to be stalked and taken off to prison in Israel? Almost any human being would say yes. But for Gabriel this one is very personal.

The Confessor by Daniel Silva – Book

Not my favorite book of the Gabriel Allon series, The Confessor  by Daniel Silva should not be skipped if you want to do justice to the chronology. In Munich a Jewish professor and scholar, Benjamin Stern, is murdered and the manuscript he is working on is stolen. In Rome a Pope is elected who is not well loved by some of the Cardinals. He chooses the name, Paul VII. What is the connection between a Jewish professor/doctor and the Vatican in Rome? That is the business of this Silva thriller.

The Catholic Church is full of power politics and holds both traditionalists and reformers. We learned this in real life when Pope Francis was chosen, and the tug of war keeps emerging from time to time in the news. Wherever power is possible people will conspire to attain it. Investigation exposes a secret conservative cabal within the Catholic Church called Crux Veraand we get whiff of possible scandal, that the Roman Catholic Church (some of it) has things to hide, things left over from WWII that link the church to the Nazi’s and also to the Jews. Whatever happened could be so harmful to the image of the church that there are those who will kill to keep it a secret. Gabriel has a friend in the Vatican though, the Pope’s right hand man and bodyguard, Father Donati.

Gabriel, an Israeli man, not religious but definitely Jewish in his soul, is often to be found restoring religious art painted by now famous artists whose work adorns cathedrals all over Europe. Currently he is restoring a Bellini painting in Venice. He has many aliases but is known in the art world as Mario Delvecchio. With the death of Dr. Stern he will put down his paint brush and pick up his gun because his mentor, Shamron, the tough old Israeli is almost impossible to say no to. Here is one reason to read this book – you learn more of Shamron’s past.

We also learn more of Gabriel’s back story. We learn that an aleph in the Israeli Secret Service is an assassin. Gabriel is an aleph. Gabriel also meets the Rabbi’s lovely daughter Chiara, who becomes important to Gabriel and in this series of books.

Once Gabriel begins to follow the trail backwards from Dr. Stern’s murder it becomes clear that wherever Gabriel goes he is clearly being watched. That is how he knows that his investigations are poking the hornet’s nest hidden in the Catholic Church. Crux Verahas their own assassin, The Leopard. Guess what his assignment is? As I said, The Confessor is not my favorite, and it may not please Roman Catholic readers, but it gives you key information to put future sagas in context. And it is still a thriller of that cerebral variety that keeps readers returning to Silva’s novels.

The English Assassin by Daniel Silva – Book

I have just finished reading the second book in the Gabriel Allon series, The English Assassin by Daniel Silva. One of the things that separates the Gabriel Allon series from other spy thrillers is that Gabriel works for Israeli intelligence. He is often considered such a good spy because he can kill without getting too emotional about it. In fact, critics say he may not have blood in his veins, which, I guess, is a way to say he is too robotic, or workmanlike. In the spy thrillers I have read, the best agents are not necessarily warm, cuddly individuals. Gabriel actually seems, to me, a bit more human than some agents who use a more military model. But he is a loner, and does not ever put together a permanent team. He actually has an adversarial relationship with many of the other members of the Office. Gabriel doesn’t create an ersatz family, unless a bunch of old curmudgeons qualify.

Another thing that separates the Allon series from other thrillers is Allon’s talent as an art restorer. Gabriel always says that he would like to restore art and not be a killer of bad guys. He blames the man who turned him into his protégé in the spy trade – Ari Shamron who runs the Office on King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Gabriel has some affection and plenty of hostility for Shamron. Shamron changed the path of Gabriel’s life, made him a spy instead of a painter. Gabriel always fools himself into believing that each case is his last. However, his conscience convinces him to take on project after project. But even more often Shamron convinces (bribes) him to take a case. In the case of Augustus Rolfe, Anna Rolfe, and the missing Impressionist paintings, Shamron gets Gabriel to investigate the matter using false pretenses.

We are made aware of the role bankers in Switzerland played in a war where they allegedly remained neutral. Because they were the world’s bankers, with accounts guaranteed as secret, they accepted money, art, jewels, gold, and anything valuable from German leaders who were members of the Nazi government – Jewish valuables stolen from citizens they knew they intended to gas. When the Nazi’s lost the war, the Swiss did not give the valuables back because the transactions were still supposedly protected by privacy laws. But the banks, Silva contends, often came to believe that these spoils of genocide and war were theirs. When one such Swiss banker, Augustus Rolfe, the very one Shamron sent Gabriel to meet, is found dead, Gabriel is arrested and thrown into a cell in Zurich even though logistically he could not be the murderer. Shamron hears of this and gets him out. He sends Gabriel off to meet Anna Rolfe, a famous violinist, whose father is the dead banker. Through Anna, Allon finds out about the large and illegal collection of Impressionist paintings owned by her father. Anna needs to be protected. After all, her father was murdered in his own salon. The paintings must be found. A secret group in Switzerland (the Council of Rütli) exists solely to make sure these paintings are not found.

A second assassin, one who trained under Gabriel for a while, is killing anyone connected with this painting chase. Christopher Keller, who most people think died in the SAS, is very much alive, living on Corsica and killing whoever the Orsati family wants him too. (The Orsatis do believe in justice but this time they are on the wrong side. Keller switches side, and stops killing the good guys.) He decides he wants to kill the same awful men that Gabriel kills. This may explain how Gabriel gets out of the clutches of Otto Gessler alive so he can retire to Cornwall to recover from his injuries and restore works of art until Shamron intervenes once again.

The English Assassin has a fairly convoluted plot with lots of traveling involved. But there is satisfaction in the possibility that the recovered works of art will be returned to the original owners or their offspring, if anyone in the owner’s family is still alive. While this thriller is fictional, art stolen by Germans in WWII really has been found and returned when possible. This amazing story has been told again and again since some of the caches of paintings have been found, and it always feels like justice.

Whether there is really a shadowy group of Swiss bankers whose key goal is to keep the cruelly appropriated wealth stored in the vaults and cellars in their banks, or even in their houses, I do not know. It certainly fits with what we know of human greed.

Be sure to look for me on goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson.

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva – Book

I finally managed to find the first book in the Gabriel Allon series, only to find out that this book refers back to three prequels, including one about an operation to avenge the deaths at the Munich Olympics. These books are not in the Allon series but they offer explanations for the events in The Kill Artist which is considered the first book in the series. In 1996, Silva wrote The Unlikely Spy, in 1998 he wrote the Mark of the Assassin, and in 1999, The Marching Season.

The events that caused the death of Gabriel’s son and the maiming of his wife – events that haunt Gabriel’s dreams and inform his current activities, happened because Allon had killed two members of a family of Palestinian terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Tariq al-Hourani, Gabriel’s target in The Kill Artist, is the man who placed the bomb that blew up Gabriel’s family, as he watched helplessly. Tariq is also a Palestinian, related to the two terrorists killed for their murders in Munich, his car bombing an act of revenge.

(Many readers, sympathetic to the needs of Palestinians, find this plot line unpalatable. It is true that readers of thrillers don’t want to dwell on the Israeli-Palestinian divide. But after these early books, Silva is not always focused on righting wrongs (imagined or real) of Palestinian “terrorists” against Jews. If this was the axe that was ground by the author through every book, his work would not be so popular. Silva chooses to address diverse forms of the terror humans perpetrate against each other.)

Another interesting element to note in Silva’s books is his female characters. They are usually strong, beautiful, and driven by some injustice or injury in their past. Silva creates his spy, Gabriel, who trusts women to be as talented and ruthless as men, given the proper training, and using their existing motivations to exact justice. Although he sometimes sleeps with these talented beauties, they know he doesn’t love them and they know he will not let them be victimized if he can prevent it. These women bear no grudges against the handsome spy who has lost his family, although considering how almost every operation ends, they would, if they knew, probably be less inclined to cooperate.

Tariq al-Hourani is a brutal guy but he is dying. Gabriel uses a woman, born Jewish but raised by a French family; a woman whose parents were murdered by the Nazis at Sobibor. She is Sarah Halévy, but her French name is Jacqueline Delacroix. She has her own reasons to help Gabriel assassinate al-Hourani. Things, as usual, go terribly awry but Gabriel is the one who ends up with a bullet in his chest. This is not really a spoiler because we never wonder if Allon will be hurt, only how it will happen. Roaming around the best bits of Europe with Gabriel Allon is always a nerve-wracking adventure. But this book begins and ends in one of my favorite Gabriel locations, an isolated cottage in Cornwall, England.

Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva – Book

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In Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva, when a Russian journalist dies in the arms of Gabriel Allon, an Israeli operative, at the Basilica in Rome, Gabriel’s highest level friends in the Vatican are not thrilled. Gabriel had a meeting with this, now dead, reporter who had something to tell him. Gabriel is not thrilled either. He was on his honeymoon in Umbria and he does not want any part of this. But it’s a mystery that involves injustice, assassination, and perhaps more; clarion calls that Allon can never fail to answer. Gabriel immediately knows his honeymoon is over.

Ops inside Russia, especially in Moscow, are rarely undertaken by any nation’s spy agency, let alone the Israelis. Moscow plays by its own rules. What is supposed to be a quick in and out excursion, under a false identity, to talk with Olga Sukhova, another journalist, goes badly awry when Gabriel decides to outstay his team. Moscow rules say, “Assume every room is bugged and every telephone monitored. Assume every person you encounter is under opposition control. And don’t look back. You are never completely alone.” And yet he defies his boss and friend Ari Shamron and stays. Guess how that turns out.

In these days when we talk about Russia every day, the information the author gives us about Russia is very familiar to us. Olga tells Gabriel, “To understand Russia today, you must understand the trauma of the nineties. Everything we had, everything we had been told, was swept away. We went from superpower to basket case overnight. Our people lost their life savings, not just once but over and over again. Russians are paternalistic people. They believe in the Orthodox Church, the State, the Tsar. They associate democracy with chaos. Our president… uses words like ‘managed democracy’ and ‘State capitalism’ but they’re just euphemisms for something more sinister, fascism.”

Gabriel’s Russian op does not stay in Russia. He learns that the man our reporters were so worried about is a very wealthy Russian oligarch who is very well guarded. Olga tells Gabriel exactly why this particular oligarch is so dangerous and exactly how he has stepped over a “red line” to pursue a business deal that must be stopped.

In Moscow Rules you can read about the plan Gabriel comes up with to flush him out. Since we know that Gabriel’s plans do not go smoothly, find out how he messes up this time. Find out if his new wife is still speaking to him after he never gets back to the honeymoon. It’s a very satisfying Gabriel Allon book. It has all the characteristic parts of the pattern readers expect when they throw in their lot with the Israeli Secret Service and their painterly operative, who manages, despite the powerful people he chases down, to get some of the worst players off the world  stage. I think you will find that it also resonates with the situation we find ourselves in today, vis a vis Russia. Serendipity.

The Messenger by Daniel Silva – Book

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I seem to have summer fever. Instead of reading nonfiction with serious content, I have wandered back to lighter fare. Since I am of the firm conviction that even fiction that entertains is not necessarily cheerful and may even encompass some social commentary, my idea of a frivolous summer book may not be the same as yours. I often click on lists of summer reading suggestions that other people love to post online and their choices almost never conform with mine.

I had previously read two books by Daniel Silva in the Gabriel Allon series. I decided to try to finish up that series this summer. What I discovered is that there are 17 books in this series so far. Silva has written one a year since 2000, only missing 2001 and 2012. It was my idea to read them in order but I am finding that that is difficult if I want to use the library, so out-of-order it is. I will include a list of all 17 books at the end of this post, however. The Messenger was first on my summer agenda. A few words about Gabriel Allon. Mr. Allon may be a stone killer when necessary but he never kills without good reason. He is a good guy, a rescuer, a green-eyed weapon trained by the Israeli Secret Service at King Saul Boulevard and he is at the peak of his talents. He might have been a world class painter if he had not been recruited by his mentor Shamron. Instead he is a first class restorer of famous paintings, when he is not following up on intel about some criminal who intends to wreak havoc on whatever part of the world that the miscreant perceives as an enemy.

The villain in The Messenger is a terrorist behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and a man who has managed to stay hidden in plain sight by changing his appearance (which has rarely been glimpsed and almost never photographed) and by being under the protection of the very rich Zizi al-Bakari, who funds terrorists but has never been caught at it. Gabriel hates terrorists and, even when he promises his wife he will not get involved he cannot help himself. Gabriel has a whole team of operatives who we also get to know, although not in any great detail. In this particular book we meet Sarah, an American girl who lost her fiancé on 9/11. Sarah has a degree in art and she is no trained operative but she agrees to take part in this plan to catch Zizi and the terrorist he hides. Gabriel’s team is not on board with using Sarah in this dangerous op.

Gabriel’s plans are often quite audacious because the people he is after are so good at evading capture. His plans often center around what he knows best, famous works of art. And Gabriel’s plans almost never go smoothly. They go awry in often spectacular fashion and people get hurt and they die. Gabriel takes a beating in every one of these adventures in keeping the world safe from really bad guys that I have read so far. Sometimes he is not even completely recovered from the last op before it is time for a new one, but he is no bruiser. He is a thin guy approaching middle age who strikes people he meets as very sincere and serious, and who relies on guns more often than his fists. He’s likable but it’s hard to pin down why. When each plan goes off the rails and Gabriel is roughed-up or nearly killed once again I get angry at him for being unable to plan and execute a perfect op. However it is good to see someone who is human in scale beat some of the super bad actors that Gabriel pursues and he always wins in the end, although he never gets much credit. Governments are happy with his results but not with the chaos and mayhem that precedes the rough justice. Gabriel is not a rule follower and that is why he is always in trouble.

2000  The Kill Artist

2002  The English Assassin

2003  The Confessor

2004  A Death in Venice

2005  Prince of Fire

2006  The Messenger

2007  The Secret Servant

2008  Moscow Rules

2009  The Defector

2010  The Rembrandt Affair

2011  The Fallen Angel

2013  The English Girl

2014  The Heist

2015  The English Spy

2016  The Black Widow

2017  House of Spies

2018  The Other Woman