Daniel Silva’s House of Spies

I really enjoyed “House of Spies”  from both a reader’s perspective and an aspiring author’s perspective.

I obtained this book from my local library. My previous experience with Daniel Silva made me a very happy camper when I saw this book on the new arrivals shelf. I imagine this was a very popular book, so I felt myself to be a lucky reviewer when I was able to borrow this book.

I have read very many (but not all) of Daniel Silva’s books. Since this book is the most recent (2017) of his highly successful Gabriel Allon series, the reader of this review should know that there are a number of characters and plot lines that have appeared in earlier novels. I believe the reader can enjoy this book a great deal on its own, but I would suggest that the reader at least read “The Black Widow” before reading “House of Spies”. Character continuity and unfinished plot lines are facts of life in any series, but there especially relevant here. Any more specifics might spoil one or both very good novels.

In this book, Daniel Silva’s main character, Gabriel Allon, is now the head of Israeli intelligence after starting his career as a lowly assassin recruited by the almost mythical character of Ari Shamron. Allon is an art restorer in his second life, and art always enters his novels in some way, and this book is no exception. He becomes an “operational” head, so he is still free to get his hands dirty to the delight of this reader and most likely many of his loyal fans.  This time he is dealing with an ISIS-related threat that has already caused quite a bit of carnage and promises much more. Much of the novel is set in Morocco, and Silva does a great job of describing another interesting and well-drawn setting to his formidable collection of exotic sites.

What I liked about this book was that it was true to his series. There was continuity of plot lines, backstory, and character development. I enjoy his forays into the surprisingly dark side of the art world. The character of Gabriel Allon is magnificently drawn. He is a complex character that could be very easy to dislike, but his humanity and decency manages to shine through when he gets his hands dirty. He gets his hands VERY DIRTY, but Allon’s voice comes through loud and clear in virtually every bit of dialog. The story is fast-paced, and he introduces necessary modern technology including drone strikes. He has a rather long scene involving a drone attack that is probably the best scene in the book. I applaud Daniel Silva on his research to make this technology believable, yet accessible to a non-technological audience. That is not an easy task. The issue of “moral ambiguity” is present in the subtext here, and this made the book all the more rewarding intellectually.

There were two major points of dislike that I noticed in this book. I don’t think these detract from the book and certainly didn’t cut down my enjoyment of the book.

There seemed an awful lot of backstory here. Silva is walking a dangerous tightrope in trying to use plot lines and character development so necessary in a series, but he also would like this book to be able to stand by itself. Since I had read many, but not all, of his prior books, I found the backstory annoying and repetitive at times, particularly since I had just recently read “The Black Widow”. There must have been some books I missed, since a character in “House of Spies” was a former assassin that somehow wound up working for Gabriel Allon in spite of having tried to assassinate Allon in a previous novel. In that situation, there was not enough backstory for me to buy into that premise. I do have to admit, the assassin is a great character, however, and I am sure he will surface in future novels in this franchise.

In the climactic scene, Allon was “extremely operational”, and I found it difficult to believe that the head of Israeli intelligence was acting operationally on someone else’s soil without their explicit consent. Notwithstanding  that brief but necessary suspension of belief for me, it was a very good final scene.

I will be on the lookout for Silva’s next book, and I will be reading his novels that I missed. This was really enjoyable.

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