House of Spies by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦)
Gabriel Allon Series Book 17
It's been a few months since Israeli art restorer and master spy Gabriel Allon has assumed the directorship of the Office. Not far from his mind are the events unfolded in Washington, DC months ago— at the center of the previous installment, The Black Widow— by master terrorist Saladin, and now new attacks have occurred in London and Paris with his signature all over. It will be up to Gabriel to plan, organize, and carry out an expensive operation, encompassing the world's preeminent intelligence agencies, to tease out Saladin’s whereabouts from prominent criminals in France's and Morocco's underbelly.
At the center of his plot is a couple— Mikhail posing as Dmitri Antonov (a Russian millionaire who has, presumably, amassed his enormous fortune dealing in arms) and Natalie Mizrahi posing as Sophie, his dazzling French wife— recruiting as an asset French businessman Jean-Luc Martel, who is rumored to be a world-class drug trafficker on the side. His "not quite wife", retired model turned clothes designer and art gallery owner, Olivia Watson, will be the key to unlock Martel's secrets.
House of Spies, like all its predecessors in the series, is a page-turner that manages to entertain and inform the reader on international affairs, displays dark humor courtesy of the spy community, has an intriguing premise at the core of which is "the new normal" state of the world, and also manages to formulate eerie possibilities: ISIS' (as did al-Qaeda before it) search for nuclear material, and its morphing into an internet jihadist movement capable of cyber warfare.
I had no information on what Daniel Silva states in his author's notes "evidence that suggests ISIS' search for nuclear material", so I dismissed the key plot point as uncharacteristically wildly creative, but after reading his notes I have to say it is within the realm of possibility, as eerie as it may seem.
What I Liked
- The returns of Christopher Keller, Natalie Mizrahi, and the minor appearances from Julian Isherwood, Ari Shamron, Don Orsati, and the Signadora.
- The subplot of the jinns haunting the baptized "house of spies" in Casablanca, Morocco.
- The closing of the chapter in the Saladin saga.
What I Didn't Like
- The Black Widow was a fantastically quotable book, and House of Spies pales in comparison.
- The excessive repetition of scenes and phrases that die-hard followers of the series are way too familiar with, such as Keller's or Julian's backgrounds, for instance, or that Saladin was "tall and walked with a limp" or that Natalie tended him to health "in a house of many rooms and courts in Palmyra." Without so much repetition, I think the novel would have been easily 100 pages shorter.
“And a spy never spoke for attribution when a poisonous leak to a friendly reporter would suffice.” Page 20
‘“So,” said Seymour finally, “how does it feel to be a member of the club?”
“Our chapter of the club isn’t as grand as yours,” said Gabriel, glancing around the magnificent office. “Nor as old.”
“Wasn’t it Moses who dispatched a team of agents to spy out the land of Canaan?”
“History’s first intelligence failure,” said Gabriel. “Imagine how things might have turned out for the Jewish people if Moses had chosen another plot of land.”
“And now that plot of land is yours to protect.”’ Page 97
“There is worse feeling for a professional spy than to be told something by an officer from another service that he should have already known himself.” Page 112
‘But Rosseau did not answer, at least not directly. Instead, adopting the demeanor of a professor, he took a detour backward in time, to the hopeful winter of 2011. In Tunisia and Egypt, a pair of oppressive regimes had been swept away by a sudden wave of popular anger and resentment. Libya was next. In January there were a smattering of protests over housing shortages and political corruption, protests that soon spiraled into a nationwide uprising. It quickly became apparent that Muammar Gaddafi, Libya’s tyrannical ruler, would not follow the example of his counterparts in Tunis and Cairo and go quietly into the Arab night. He had ruled Libya with an iron fist for more than four decades, stealing its oil riches and murdering his opponents, sometimes only for the sake of his own entertainment. A man of the desert, he knew the fate that awaited him if he fell. And so he plunged his backward nation into a full-fledged civil war. Fearing a bloodbath, the West intervened militarily, with France taking a leading role. By October, Gaddafi was dead, and Libya was free.
“And what did we do?” Did we flood Libya with money and other forms of assistance? Did we hold its hand while it tried to make the transition from a tribal society to a Western-style democracy? No,” said Rosseau, “we did none of those things. In fact, we did almost nothing at all. And what happened as a result of our inaction? Libya became yet another failed state, and ISIS moved into the void.”’ Pages 114-115