House of Spies
By Daniel Silva
Harper. 544 pp. $28.99
It's uncanny how Daniel Silva keeps doing this. The opening chapters of his new espionage thriller, House of Spies, feel as if ripped from the headlines. There's a devastating ISIS terror attack, with hundreds killed in the West End of London. But when Silva created the scenario in his book, the real attack hadn't happened yet. The scale of the real and imagined attacks are very different. Yet House of Spies still feels quite prescient. What's more, it follows last year's The Black Widow, which was written before - but published after - the attacks in Paris and Brussels that eerily mirrored his work.
House of Spies is also one of Silva's most entertaining books. In it, Gabriel Allon - the formidable spy, assassin and art restorer (a character often referred to as the "Jewish James Bond") - concocts a crazy/brilliant scheme to track down and trap Saladin, the notorious ISIS leader who masterminded the attacks in both books.
Gabriel, now officially in charge of Israeli intelligence, first plunders the bank accounts of the Syrian ruler, stealing half a billion dollars to pay for his caper. Then he sets up two agents to pose as a Russian gun merchant and his pampered wife, new owners of a lavish villa on the French Riviera.
It's all part of an elaborate long con to win the trust of one of the richest men in France, a seemingly legitimate businessman who actually traffics in drugs that finance Saladin's ISIS operations.
In short, Gabriel baits the hook and reels in the big fish by spending obscene amounts of money for property and paintings in Saint Tropez and then throwing a series of hedonistic all-night parties. It's hard to imagine an agency actually using such an approach to combat terrorism. But in the hands of Silva, the most gifted espionage writer in the genre today, it works.
It's not absolutely necessary to have read The Black Widow before cracking open House of Spies, but doing so definitely will enhance the experience. Longtime readers (this is book No. 17 in the series) will be rewarded. Recurring characters are well used, especially Christopher Keller (the assassin-turned-English spy), Julian Isherwood (the English art dealer), and Natalie Mizrahi (the French doctor-turned-undercover operative). This book also removes any concerns readers might have had about Gabriel taking the top job at Mossad. His idea of "operational chiefdom" involves rolling his sleeves up and getting dirty.
We wouldn't have this intellectual man of action any other way.
This review originally appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.