From The Record, July 14, 2017
It seems I am getting into a rut. The English Spy (2015) by Daniel Silva is another work linked to the Troubles that plagued Ireland in the last three decades of the 20th century. Silva, a resident of Florida, has averaged about a book per year since 1996 (of which the BLL has fifteen, as well as three audio books). His spy series, keyed on the main figure, Gabriel Allon, comprises some 20 volumes, of which seven have reached the number one spot on the New York Times best-seller list.
As the story begins, we are introduced to Christopher Keller, who is not a spy. He is a paid assassin in the employ of Don Anton Orsati, an ostensible olive oil merchant in Corsica. Keller is a former member of the British SAS (Special Air Service) who walked out on the army when his unit was attacked by coalition planes during the first Gulf War. The assassination of a prominent member of the British Royal family off the coast of the French Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy has brought Gabriel Allon of the Israeli Secret Service (otherwise known as the Office), to call on Keller. Allon is a noted art restorer who had been starting work on Caravaggio`s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence in Rome when he was interrupted by Graham Seymour, the head of Britain`s MI6. There is some indication that the events in Saint Barthélemy may have involved the infamous Eamon Quinn.
Quinn had been a member of the Real IRA (Irish Republican Army), a splinter group that had opposed the IRA`s participation in the 1998 negotiations to end the violence and bloodshed that had taken so many lives over the past thirty years. The successful completion of those negotiations, and the implementation of the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement in December 1999, left no place in Ireland for people who wanted to continue the fighting. Quinn fled the country and became a freelance operative.
Both Keller and Allon have personal reasons to go after Quinn. Keller had fallen in love with an Irish woman while he was working undercover in Ireland in the 1980s; Quinn had played a large role in her death. And while Quinn was working at a training camp operated by Muammar Gaddafi in Libya’s desert, he had had occasion to teach a young Palestinian how to ensure that his bombs exploded exactly where and when he wanted them to. This knowledge would prove invaluable when he set off a bomb in Vienna that killed Allon`s first wife and son.
The pursuit of Quinn takes the agents from Corsica to Dublin to Belfast to Lisbon to London. It is only then that they realize they have been played. Quinn has been the bait. The clues they have worked so hard to find have been carefully planted like Hansel and Gretel`s pebbles to lead them astray. The hunters are really the hunted. Now the adventure and intrigue begin in earnest.
The pace of the story picks up as several plot lines evolve in rapid succession. The chases move to Vienna, Copenhagen, Hamburg, London, Cornwall and finally back to Ireland.
The book is thoroughly enjoyable, but inquiring readers may wonder at a few lapses. For example, the wheels of the story begin to turn when a man named Spider Barnes goes AWOL from his job. Yet once the full consequences of his disappearance are understood, the authorities devote scant resources to learning what happened to him or the woman he was last seen with.
When Quinn is not plying his trade as a terrorist, he seems to earn his living as a chef. While Silva provides plenty of detail about how Quinn acquired his skill set as an assassin, he offers no information about where he learned to cook. But judging by the meals he prepares, it wasn’t by his mother’s side in a working class kitchen in Ulster. More information in that regard might have provided more nuances to Quinn’s character.
And there are a few serious factual errors. Some are so blatant as to be more annoying than misleading. But they do make the reader wonder what other alternate facts may be lurking in the text that could have an impact on the events of the story.
I haven`t read any of Silva`s other books, but I found that his style and plot structure reminded me a lot of Frederick Forsyth’s novels (the BLL has eleven of these, as well as two in French translation). Silva employs the same sort of terse dialogue and descriptions that Forsyth uses so effectively: “Katerina turned to look for Quinn, and it was then that he shot her. A perfect shot, square in the breastbone, through and through. Katerina scarcely felt its impact, nor did she feel pain. She dropped to her knees, her hands hanging limply at her sides, her face tilted toward the black sky. As she fell to the damp earth of South Armagh, she imagined she was drowning in a lake of blood. A hand tried to pull her to the surface. Then the hand released her and she was dead.”
Altogether a Good Read!