Wednesday, 9 October 2019


The English Spy is the first novel by Daniel Silva I have read, but it is instructive in revealing some of the secrets of his immense popularity in spy fiction. The story begins with the detonation of a bomb aboard a yacht, which kills an English princess, part Diana part Kate, and sparks a massive investigation. The early signs lead English spy chief Graham Seymour, engaged in an ongoing feud/battle with the head of MI5 who is his former boss, to enlist the help of the Israelis, who have identified the killer.'He's an old friend' says the head of Mossad. 'Of yours, or ours?' asks Seymoure. 'Of yours', Uzi Navot replies. 'We have no friends.' Which means Silva's Gabriel Allen, the art restorer about to become head of the Mossad, comes on board. And because they are chasing after a former IRA bomb maker turned international terrorist named Eamonn Quinn, the two men turn to Christopher Keller, an assassin who once knew Quinn while he was infiltrating the IRA on behalf of the British.

From this beginning flows an international game of cat and mouse, a plot that is so inventive it was surprising Quinn, who appears to have structured much of it, does not get enough credit for the brilliance of his plan. And of course, it all points back to Ireland, recalling the past killings and betrayals that are the mark of international spies and assassins.

Allen, in many ways, is the English spy of the title; or perhaps it's Keller, and the two make an interesting pair, one which seems to have been set up for the future (note: I have not read further, or indeed back, in the saga, of which this is the fifteenth). In Silva's world the English are the civilised masters of the game, the Israelis are the harder edged forces having to deal with a more violent reality. Allen is the exception; the Israeli who to all extents and purposes is the very model of a modern MI operative. Their opponents, Irish or Arab, are almost universally evil, a lesser breed. And the Americans are the bulls in the china shop, blundering, unsophisticated, unreliable. It's an interesting world view. It's the sort of stuff I used to see businessmen reading in the business class lounge at Dusseldorf airport.

The story comes down to personal face to face violence. There are two former Russian sleeper agents involved, there are hints of lost love, and all the while Silva's new, Italian wife, is about to give birth in an Israeli hospital. The resolution makes sense, although there is a coda which is appropriate enough, but seems somehow forced, given the nature of Quinn and Keller. There is nothing fancy about Silva's prose, but he keeps the plot moving at a good pace and, as I said, the plot is immensely satisfying.

The English Spy by Daniel Silva
Harper Collins £8.99 ISBN 9870007552337

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