Russian oil creates English intrigue

By Walt Braun

If you enjoy espionage and international intrigue in your recreational reading, you might be familiar with Daniel Silva. These days, nobody does it better.

His novels feature an upper-middle-aged Mossad agent named Gabriel Allon, who’s not particularly tall or particularly good looking, though people he encounters tend to remember his piercing green eyes.

Like many Israelis his age, he lost loved ones in the Holocaust. Although he had hoped to become an artist, he finds himself restoring valuable paintings when he’s not on mission. His legend began to take shape when he was the key member of the unit dispatched to track down and execute the Palestinian Black September terrorists who killed 11 Israelis at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

In “The English Girl,” Allon is called upon by friends in British intelligence to find Madeline Hart, a talented and beautiful young politico who, until she was kidnapped while vacationing with friends in Corsica, was engaged in an affair with Britain’s prime minister. It’s something of a personal mission, though Mossad authorities are divided on the wisdom of allowing their finest agent to get involved in a British issue.

Although the British prime minister is concerned mostly about scandal, much more than his reputation is at stake. As Allon tracks Madeline from Marseille to a villa in Provence to Calais, he realizes that her kidnappers aren’t in it for the money - though 10 million euros is an impressive ransom demand.

Madeline is just a pawn in a larger plot involving Russia’s attempts to expand its oil and gas reach beyond continental Europe into off-sea oil fields controlled by England. Above-board attempts have failed, so the Russians resort to treachery, something at which they excel. Not for nothing does Allon refer to Russia’s state-owned energy giant as KGB Oil and Gas.

Thus does Allon’s mission escalate from rescuing Madeline to exposing Russia’s efforts to blackmail the prime minister and gain valuable oil reserves and the accompanying geopolitical clout. For Allon, anything having to do with Russia is personal in the extreme. He, his wife and several members of his team were nearly killed in Russia on a prior mission. To reveal more about that episode or the plot of “The English Girl” would be a disservice to readers.

The author, Daniel Silva, is, like the spy he created, a master. Silva combines credible, if complicated story lines with memorable characters. He writes intelligent dialogue, researches the numerous places he takes readers and is well versed on the world’s spy agencies as well as on tradecraft.

The result, with “The English Girl” as well as its predecessors, are fast-paced thrillers. Reading Silva’s earlier novels —there are about a dozen —isn’t necessary to appreciate the latest one. But that would be well worth the time. Among those earlier novels are “The Rembrandt Affair,” “Moscow Rules,” and “The Fallen Angel.”

Walt Braun is editorial page editor of the Manhattan Mercury.

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