The Other Woman by Daniel Silva – Book

Gabriel Allon, our green-eyed agent for Israeli Intelligence has finally agreed to become the Chief of “the Office”. Gabriel is not in Israel though. He’s in Vienna, waiting to welcome a man, code name Heathcliff, who has been a Russian courier for years, now defecting to the West. This compromised Russian spy, real name Konstantin Kirov, is shot by an assassin on a motorcycle before he can get to the safe house where Gabriel and his team are waiting. Obviously Gabriel’s op was not as secret as he thought it was, but why?

It was my quest this summer to read all of the Gabriel Allon books that Daniel Silva has written (so far). The Other Woman (Bk. # 18) is Silva’s most recent book so my quest is done, but it is no longer summer; it is December. No matter, it is satisfying to reach a goal, and reading a number of good stories is a pretty painless path to pursue.

This particular Silva book takes us back to Moscow. Why? Some of the best classic spy thrillers were written during the Cold War between Russia and the West. When the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain fell, novels set in Russia lost their cachet. Many call these days at the beginning of the 21st century a new Cold War. Traditional spy craft is pertinent again (Moscow rules), although enhanced by cyber-warfare techniques. Silva’s books tend to follow hot spots of violence that threaten Israel (and its allies). This choice for his new plot perhaps reflects the heating-up of threats from a new Russia that is acting an awful lot like the old USSR.

It is fitting that an old spy, Kim Philby (real person) turns out to have fathered a new spy. Gabriel and his crew, while investigating how their Kirov op got blown, also manage to solve the mystery of Kim Philby’s offspring and prevent the successful installation of a mole at the head of MI6. Will Graham Seymour, current head of MI6 survive the scandal? Will Gabriel be able to save his once-close rapport with Seymour and British intelligence? The Other Woman by Daniel Silva is classic stuff, but it might make you wish that the bad old days did not seem to be returning.

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva – Book

The Black Widow (Bk. #16) by Daniel Silva opens with the violent death of another venerable Jewish person intent on preventing a reoccurrence of the atrocities of Hitler’s Germany. Hannah Weinberg created the Isaac Weinberg center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France (fictional) at the end of Silva’s novel, The Messenger  (Bk. #6) She also owns a (fictitious) van Gogh painting, Marguerite Gachet at Her Dressing Table, used to call attention to real events in French history – Jeudi Noir and the Paris Roundup of 1942.

Who is responsible for this bombing and assassination that kills Hannah and other prominent invitees to a conference at the center in Paris? Why are so many Jews leaving France to go to Israel in the midst of Palestinian rocket launches into Israel?

This particular book seemed to touch on issues that are not settled territory for me, perhaps because it brings us to a time that is more contemporary than previous books in the Allon series. For one thing I cannot help having some sympathy for Palestinians, although I think their militant approach to what they see as Israeli imperialism made it impossible to take a diplomatic stance that could have led to shared ownership and peace, instead of eliciting a corresponding violence in the Jewish people. Having just learned of the annihilation of 6 million Jews in Europe, the Jewish people found themselves homeless until they were granted a toehold in Israel, and the lesson they had learned, that they could not afford to trust any nation, had just been driven home so tragically. They were more than ready to defend their new nation.

The second part of this particular Gabriel Allon op was about Syria, and refugees, and ISIS, and the radicalization of Arabic people displaced by war (and others). ISIS appears to promise the vulnerable and dispossessed a new nation – a caliphate – a chance to restore pride and offer them a return to their homeland. (There is no place like home.) There is no instant fix to the whole issue of how Muslims and Christians can learn to live in closer proximity than we did before the Iraq war; it requires an investment of time and tolerance. I cannot help but feel sorrow for people who were forced to empty out their country because of Bashar al Assad’s unwillingness to be humane. But I also find myself fearful at the idea of a regimented caliphate that exhibits a violent missionary zeal. Fighting terrorism seems an appropriate action for nations to undertake.

Does it trivialize the rise of ISIS to put it at the center of a thriller. Perhaps, a little. But it also allows readers who don’t pay much attention to news to get some insight into the genesis of ISIS, its history, its rationale, and its modus operandi. This time Gabriel turns a secretary/administrative assistant into The Black Widow who can join ISIS and perhaps track down the identity and location of Saladin, the illusive man directing recent terrorists activities in Europe and hoping to do so in America.

We know Gabriel does not have a problem using females in spy ops and we also know they often end up in great physical peril, as does Gabriel. How does his black widow fare? The issues I encountered with The Black Widow were personal, so see what feelings this interesting thriller, full of all your favorite Silva characters, engenders in you. I did like the perspectives it gave on the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – Book

Kate Atkinson’s new novel, Transcription, joins a spate of World War literature coming out of Great Britain. All these books talk about what British citizens who were not soldiers did during wars. People wanted to help with the war effort and since many of the adults who were still in British cities were women, the tasks women took on often affected them in ways similar to the way soldiers are affected. The end of the war found women who had done unlikely, dangerous and heroic things, having to assimilate their war time behavior into the person they would be moving forward in peacetime. Other recent novels include: The Alice Network by Kate Quinn which I have not read yet, Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce, and Warlight by Michael Ondaatje.

Why is this the moment when so many writers were moved to write about such very similar experiences? Are people feeling an instability in political institutions these days that could lead to war? Are people rushing to offer us some patriotic roles that we could play? Is this a creative brain meld? Is this just an odd coincidence or nostalgic moment? With all the authoritarian figures rising in nations that once flirted with democracy does this feel somewhat similar to the rise of “you know who” before WWII? Are authors feeling the same fears we all feel that we may be called upon to defend our freedoms in the very near future, or to keep them alive for what could be decades of darkness?

Transcription is an absorbing book all on its own, but I recommend giving all these books a read because each takes a different tack on the same subject. In Transcription our heroine Juliet Armstrong is recruited by MI5 to help keep an eye on Hitler lovers and want-to-be Nazi’s living in England. British intelligence rents two adjacent apartments. In one a rather convincing Godfrey Toby, a spy of course, makes friends and collects important data about England’s defenses. These friends of Hitler think Gordon will pass this strategic data on to Germany. Of course this is simply a way for Britain to keep this information away from Germany and keep potential British traitors from doing real damage to the allied side in the war.

The second apartment is filled with recording equipment and a typewriter where a very young Juliet listens to what Gordon’s unwary informants reveal and then types a transcript that tries to give a word-by-word script of who is talking and what they reveal. Not all of the dialogue comes across clearly but Juliet does the best she can. Then Juliet is embroiled further into spying when she is asked to adopt a new persona and join a more upscale right wing group of traitors. This is how a girl who simply types gets deeply into something that is so unforgettable that she will never be free of either her memories or her handlers.

Do books make the future and the culture happen, do they predict what will come, or do they just reflect the present and the culture of the times in which they are written? It seems that books can do all of these things, and they can sometimes do all of them at one and the same time, which is probably one of the aspects of reading great books that keeps readers hooked. So what will turn out to be true of this little cluster of intellectual doppelgangers?

I am happy to read every book that Kate Atkinson writes and I feel the same way about Michael Ondaatje. I don’t know the other two authors as well but I may eventually be adding them to my long list of beloved authors. However, I would much prefer that these novels be reflective rather than predictive. You may find that you begin asking yourself how you would have performed under similar circumstances. One more point, possibly a #metoo point, although all of these books feature female characters, not one of them is a “chick” book. But because they all happen in the past, all these women work for men. However war seems to blur the lines between women’s work and men’s work as you will see. Don’t forget to spend a few moments thinking about why this book is called Transcription rather than Transcriptions. Thank you Kate.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search, Running in Heels