Gabriel Allon is in Jerusalem, giving the finishing touches to the Caravaggio altar piece that he recovered in The Heist. He is days away of assuming the directorship of the Office. But once again, world affairs take center stage in his life, for a series of attacks on Jews in France have the Jewish population on edge.
To compound things further, a truck bomb has just destroyed the influential Isaac Weinberg Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism in France in the heart of Paris, and ISIS, “the most violent terrorist organization the world has ever known”, has attributed the deed. Hannah Weinberg, the owner of the van Gogh painting that facilitated the reeling in of Zizi al-Bakari in The Messenger, has just been killed in the attack.
Hannah Weinberg has bequest her van Gogh to Gabriel, but the government of France, and Paul Rousseau—the head of a very specialized anti-terror unit—want Gabriel’s services in exchange for the painting. With the cooperation of four intelligence agencies, a net is cast on an elusive ISIS mastermind known only as Saladin. A Jewess of French provenance, under the cover of a black widow, travels to the caliphate and infiltrates the network. But is she a precious piece in the chess game that follows, or just an expendable pawn?
Wow! Today’s world seems to have spun out of control, and the events related In The Black Widow are just reflections of that. The Black Widow is a page turner of the highest order, a combination of great sense of humor, with more laugh out loud moments than ever before, but it also details the most chaotic and lethal deeds that terrorists may be able to conceive and carry out. Ever since The Defector I had been looking for my next peak in the Gabriel Allon saga, and this novel is just that, though in several respects it left me wondering if this is the final entry.
Some of the events detailed in The Black Widow have come to pass; others hopefully will never come to be. Daniel Silva has been prescient before—he was so regarding Egypt in The Secret Servant, about the state of affairs in Russia in Moscow Rules and The Defector, and about terrorists dealing in antiquities in The Fallen Angel—but this time, reality caught up with fiction so to speak, for he was writing this book about ISIS as an attack on Paris’ soil unfolded.
The fact that the investigation spilled out to Belgium, both in the book and real life, is not a coincidence. Daniel Silva states that “Belgium has earned the dubious distinction of being Western Europe’s largest per capita supplier of manpower to the Islamic caliphate”. He takes no pleasure in being prescient, he says; I wouldn’t either if I were him, but the state of world affairs suggest that one has to be very naïve or very stupid to ignore the dangers that radical Islam poses to the western world, and he is neither.
Europe has been seized by a wave of appeasement that in no measure has discouraged these attacks. Politicians the world over are either in denial or in a convenient state of denial about the modern world being at war. Terrorists don’t believe in appeasement; they revel in chaos and deaths…the more the better. Those who fail to acknowledge these threats may hurt foreign policies beyond repair, in America as well as the rest of the world.
‘Again, Gabriel tilted his head to the left. “We hoped the problems of Syria would remain in Syria, but I’m afraid hope is not an acceptable strategy when it comes to national security. While we’ve been twiddling our thumbs, ISIS has been developing a sophisticated terror network with the ability to strike in the heart of the West.”’ (Location 1270, 17%)
‘“…But are we truly to blame? We, the humble secret servants who stand with our fingers in the dike? Or does the blame lie elsewhere?”
“In Washington, for example.” Rousseau set off along the embankment. “The invasion of Iraq turned the region into a cauldron. And when the new American president decided the time had come to withdraw, the cauldron boiled over. And then there was this folly we called the Arab Spring. Mubarak must go! Gaddafi must go! Assad must go!” He shook his head slowly. “It was madness, absolute madness. And now we are left with this. ISIS controls a swath of territory the size of the United Kingdom, right on the doorstep of Europe. Even Bin Laden would have never dared to dream of such thing. And what does the American president tell us? ISIS is not Islamic. ISIS is the jayvee team.” He frowned. “What does this mean? Jayvee?”
“I think it has something to do with basketball.”
“And what does basketball have to do with a subject as serious as the rise of the caliphate?”’ (Location 1431-1438, 19%)
‘…“We had our problems with Saddam, but we warned the Americans they would rue the day they toppled him. They didn’t listen, of course. Nor did they listen when we asked them to do something about Syria. Not our problem, they said. We’re putting the Middle East in our rearview mirror. No more American wars in Muslim lands. And now look at the situation. A quarter of a million people dead, hundreds of thousands more streaming into Europe, Russia and Iran working together to dominate the Middle East.” He shook his head slowly. “Have I left anything out?”’ (Location1899-1907, 25%)
‘“It’s true,” said Carter. “We were late to the ISIS party. It is also true that even after arriving at the party we avoided the buffet and the punch bowl. You see, after many years of attending such parties, we’ve grown weary of them. Our president has made it clear that the last one, the one in Iraq, was a crashing bore. Expensive, too, in American blood and treasure. And he has no interest in throwing another one in Syria, especially when it conflicts with the narrative.”
“What narrative is that?”
“The one about how we overreacted to nine-eleven. The one about how terrorism is a nuisance, not a threat. The one about how we can absorb another strike like the one that brought our economy and transportation system to its knees, and be stronger as a result. And let us not forget,” Carter added, “the president’s unfortunate remarks about ISIS being the jayvee team. Presidents don’t like being proved wrong.”
“Neither do spies, for that matter.”’ (Location 4010-4018, 52%)