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The Secret Servant
By Daniel Silva
352 pages; $25.95
Best-selling thriller author Daniel Silva's seventh novel featuring art restorer and sometime Israeli secret agent Gabriel Allon is on the shelves and already drawing praise.
The Secret Servant follows Allon from Israel to continental Europe, to the British Isles and back again on the hunt for the beautiful, abducted daughter of a powerful American diplomat. The kidnapping proves to be just one facet of an international web of terrorist plots that leave hundreds of bodies littering the pages before the end. The reluctant but adept Allon is once again the only person resourceful enough to save the girl and prevent further large-scale bloodshed.
Silva, a former CNN executive producer in Washington, left TV journalism to pursue a career as a novelist in 1994 and debuted to success with The Unlikely Spy. His next eight releases were also greeted enthusiastically by genre enthusiasts.
The author's professional background adds legitimacy to the fact-filled writing and gives readers an entertaining lesson in international affairs and counterterrorism methods. All of Silva's novels are well researched and The Secret Servant provides a fascinating glimpse into the chaotic world of foreign intelligence Still, one often gets the feeling that Silva's characters have temporarily become mere mouthpieces for what should be a New York Times op-ed piece or CNN commentary.
Take, for example, the following quote from Allon on the use of torture to get information: "I wish I could say it doesn't work, but that's not the case. Done properly, by trained professionals, placing physical and emotional stress on captured terrorists very often produces actionable intelligence that saves lives. But at what cost to the societies and security services that engage in it? A very high cost, unfortunately. It puts us in the same league as the Egyptians and the Jordanians and Saudis and every other brutal Arab secret police force that tortures its opponents. And ultimately it does harm to our cause because it turns believers into fanatics."
It is difficult to believe that Allon is actually speaking to a young friend. His words bear a stronger resemblance to a political candidate's platform.
There are also a few instances in which the reader is forced to suspend disbelief for the plot to continue smoothly. For instance, Silva has Allon dispose of his cellphone and gun on a manhunt that leaves him completely and knowingly at the mercy of scrupulous terrorists. After reading pages of descriptions about the lengths Israeli, British and US intelligence services go to in order to utilize appropriate security and tracking methods, the scenario seems unrealistic, at the least. A chapter in which the resources of the Israeli intelligence agency are devoted to planning a short-notice wedding is laughable in its implausibility.
At times, The Secret Servant almost screams out to potential investors, "Make me into a movie!" The book comes across as unabashedly pro-Israel and arguably over-alarmist about the prospect of Europe becoming a fundamentalist Muslim state in the near future. The glorification of Israeli ingenuity and self-reliance, while not entirely undue, might draw the ire of some readers. For example, elder statesman spymaster Ari Shamrom spends two paragraphs extolling the value of independence from the US in the fight against terrorism: "I wouldn't ask the Americans to do it for me. Blue and white, Gabriel. Blue and white. We do things for ourselves, and we do not help others with problems of their own making. The Americans threw in their lot with the secular dictatorships of the Middle East a long time ago... And we will fight them - alone."
Nice in theory, but few would be able to deny the importance of American financial and technological aid, or discount the near necessity of US military assistance if a large-scale war occurred.
Fans of Silva's previous work will no doubt be left satisfied by The Secret Servant. Newcomers to his work, however, might be disappointed by the formulaic plot and undeveloped characters. While the novel does not require knowledge of Allon's previous exploits of international intrigue, familiarity with the recurring players will likely make them less one-dimensional. Silva's obvious comfort in resuming the tale of Allon and company often leads him to utilize clichÃ©s in a rush to move their story along.
Readers looking for a good beach book, or a quick read for late summer nights, will certainly find it in The Secret Servant. Silva is an entertaining writer and his understanding of international terror networks will leave readers more informed, and probably more concerned, about the state of the world.