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Portrait of a Spy
Gabriel Allon Series, No 11
Daniel Silva

Harper Collins
July 19th, 2011/ ISBN 978-0-06-207218-4

Reviewed by Elise Cooper

Daniel Silva's latest novel, Portrait of a Spy, is an exciting, action packed thriller that takes the reader on a journey through such places as England, Paris, Washington DC, Saudi Arabia, and New York. It examines the important issues of the day that include terrorism, the Islamic woman’s plights, and the two faces of Saudi Arabia. This book shows what a nasty and brutal war this has been for the last ten years.

The first few chapters explore the possible new terrorist strategy of multiple suicide bombings that use conventional weapons. They occur in different European cities for the purpose of creating fear. Paris was chosen because the facial veil was banned; Copenhagen because of the cartoons depicting Mohammed; and London because it has become an easy target. Silva commented that the purpose for this book is “first and foremost to tell an entertaining story. I also wanted to take stock of where we stood on the War on Terror ten years after 9/11. The tally it took on this town (Washington DC) and the people in the intelligence business.”

He explained that while writing this book “the earth shifted under my feet: Tunisia falls, then Egypt and we see Saudi tanks rolling into Bahrain. It was a challenge but also an opportunity to make the novel about much more than simply terrorism. I referred to Osama Bin Laden when he began writing the novel. He was alive and well. While the rest of Washington was stream lining toward the White House, I was sitting in the middle of the night re-writing all these passages. I feel confident in saying this is the first novel dealing with Bin Laden as a deceased person.”

The settings of this book feel like familiar places to the reader just like, according to Silva, “coming home to your parent’s house.” However, the plots range from Russian arms dealers, the Iran-nuclear threat, to the plot in this novel; how a Muslim woman becomes a martyr by helping an Israeli operative thwart a terrorist act.

In this book the plot is strongly influenced by the characters. The main male character in his last eleven books is Gabriel Allon, named after the Archangel. He is a semi-retired Israeli operative that works closely with the American and British intelligence with a cover as an art restorer. This character is extremely well developed and becomes a very likable figure.

The main female character is a moderate Muslim, Nadia al-Bakari, a Christ-like figure that is a very courageous woman, who wants to change the Islamic world. Silva commented “Nadia believed in life, not death and destruction.”

All the characters, including the supporting cast, are well developed. There is Zoe Reed, a self-described orthodox left-wing journalist, yet he is still willing to help bring down a terrorist organization by being a go between. There is also Adrian Carter, a CIA official, who works closely with Israeli intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks.

Silva commented that this character, just as those real CIA officials, was “put on the coals after 9/11 for defending America. I am completely opposed and think it outrageous that these people are targeted for doing exactly what we asked them to do to try to keep the country safe. Carter represents Langley’s good guys.” The antagonist is an American cleric living in Yemen, Rashid al-Husseini. Readers through Silva’s expert pen will have no trouble hating the terrorist and hoping he gets true justice.

This book is probably Silva’s finest, considering all his books, are true masterpieces. It is fast paced, insightful, and a compelling novel. The reader should not pick up this book unless they have the time to finish it in one sitting, since they will not want to put it down.

Reviewer's Note: Gabriel Allon Series
Reviewed 2011
© 2011