Portrait of a Spy Is a Topical Spy Tale

Gabriel Allon is one of my favorite characters in literature. His creation by Daniel Silva has been likened to the creation of James Bond by Ian Fleming. Allon is a spy for Israeli Intelligence and also works professionally as an art restorer. This is his cover for when he is on an assignment, and also his livelihood when he is not working for Israel.

Allon has been the subject of many novels by Daniel Silva and yet this character is never boring. Silva's presentation of him is always fresh and the storylines are always inventive. The topics of his assignments are based on current events and we should all wish that someone like Allon is out there helping keep us safe.

In the latest Allon novel, Portrait of a Spy, Gabriel and his wife Chiara are retired living in England. He is busily restoring paintings and to all extents and purposes has put his spy life behind him. On a weekend visit to London he stumbles on to a plot to blow up a bomb in a heavily populated area. Although he acts quickly, Allon cannot stop this event from taking place. Many people die as a result of the suicide bomber's actions and this leaves Allon with intense feelings of grief and guilt.

Thus he is responsive to a request from the United States that he prepare a mission to discover the identity of the terrorists and take their cell out of action. To do this he enlists the assistance of Nadia al-Bakari, a wealthy Muslim woman whose father supported terrorists. She agrees to work with Allon in order to correct some of her father's wrongs. As another of Silva's creations she is as interesting as Allon and almost as clever.

Silva writes in the manner that Allon restores canvases. He uses broad brushstrokes to create the basic plot and then uses finer brushes to define the characters. Also like Allon, when he is finished he has created a masterpiece of sorts. Each novel in the series of books about Allon stands alone and there is no requirement to read the previous novels in order to enjoy the current one. However those who have read the entire series will have a deeper appreciation for the later stories.

Daniel Silva was not born and raised in the South, but like his fellow writers in that area of our country, he writes with a trace of melancholy in his words. Gabriel Allon has had a lot of sorrow in his past and this permeates his life in the present. Silva captures that melancholia and uses it as a forceful tool in Allon's attitude toward his native country, his career and his relationship with other characters. This trace of sadness adds much to the impact and enjoyment of Silva's works.

If you are not yet in the Silva fold, pick up Portrait of a Spy and get introduced. This is suspense writing at its best and character writing that will stay with you for a long, long time.

Portrait of a Spy
is published by Harper Books. It contains 464 pages and sells for $26.99.

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