As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, “What is the use of a book…without pictures or conversations?” Welcome to RA Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection reader’s advisory service goes where it may. In this month’s column, Daniel Silva’s art-loving master spy, Gabriel Allon, leads me down a winding path.
Silva, Daniel. The English Girl. Harper: HarperCollins. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780062073167. $27.99. F
Israeli spy Gabriel Allon returns in Silva’s 13th series title to help solve a kidnapping that could blow apart the British Government. Madeline Hart, the Prime Minister’s lover, has been snatched during a vacation in Corsica when the the British Security Service, MI5, reaches out to Allon—who reluctantly agrees to leave his wife and his current art–restoration project and join the investigation. It is a step that will lead Allon and eventually his wife and a team of spies into a tangle of plots—only some of which Allon controls. As with all of Silva’s geopolitical and stylish thrillers, the pace is super fast and the storyline is engrossing, complicated, and twisty. Managing to be character centered even as the focus is action based, Silva’s current novel offers multiple rewards: the pure pleasure of top–notch skill—Allon is determined, able, honorable, and relentless; the book is set in a well-detailed and expansive landscape—the action moves between Israel, England, Corsica, France, and Russia and comes to life in each location; and finally, wonderful secondary characters (including the return of a man who once targeted Allon). [See Xpress Reviews, 6/21/13.]
Child, Lee. The Hard Way. Dell. 2009. 512p. ISBN 9780440246008. pap. $9.99. F
Like Silva, Child provides readers with the endless pleasures to be found in a highly-skilled agent who always comes through on his assignments and never backs down from his mission. While Allon works with a team of spies, Child’s central character, ex-army MP Jack Reacher, almost always works alone, shedding his connections as quickly as he discards the shirts and toothbrushes he routinely buys and tosses out (no long-term possessions for Reacher). Despite these differences, both novelists and their characters share a great deal in common. Child’s novels are quickly paced, complicated, and detailed. Like Silva, he also pays great attention to landscape and writes books that are action-focused and character-centered at the same time. Reacher, like Allon, knows how to get the job done, has a personal code of justice, and is dogged and ruthless. Readers can jump in almost anywhere in the series, but The Hard Way is a particularly good title to suggest as it shares the complicated twists of a kidnapping that is much more than it first appears.
Cumming, Charles. A Foreign Country. Saint Martin’s. 2013. 448p. ISBN 9781250029980. pap. $9.99. F
Fans of Silva looking for gripping tales of spies, conspiracy, and politics can be pointed in the direction of Cumming—a fluid, sharp British writer who excels at both characterization and setting. In this fast-paced and suspenseful missing-person’s tale, Amelia Levene, the first woman to head Britain’s MI6 (the secret intelligence service), goes missing in the south of France. Thomas Kell, an ex-agent dismissed in the wake of a scandal and also a former colleague of Levene’s, is reactivated and tasked with the job of finding her. The action moves between England, France, and Tunisia, as the complicated and oblique plot unfold—connecting events that occurred decades ago to present in an intricate and clever game. Full of details of spycraft, Cumming’s gripping novel offers Silva fans plenty to sink their teeth into. If he becomes a hit with your readers, suggest The Trinity Six as well. [See Prepub Alert, 2/12/12.]
Steinhauer, Olen. The Tourist. Minotaur. (Milo Weaver). 2012. 576p. ISBN 9781250018410. pap. $9.99. F
Fans of Silva’s stylish approach, intricate storytelling, and attention to both a fast pace and strong characterizations may enjoy the “Milo Weaver” series. Weaver is a CIA black ops agent, once attached to the elite “Tourist” team (a group operating on the thin edge and on their own). The work left him disenchanted, alienated by the actions he took and the murky world in which he was a member. Now away from that job, and on desk duty at the CIA, Weaver has gained some measure of peace and happiness with his wife and daughter, whom he adores. That peace is shattered in the opening story when he is forced back into the field—and on the run—as a figure from his past returns to haunt his future. Filled with twists, turns, action, and secrets, Steinhauer’s complex and well-crafted series continues with The Nearest Exit and An American Spy.
Susanna and the Elders
The English Girl features Allon restoring a painting of Susanna and the Elders, attributed to the studio of 14th-century Italian painter Jacopo Bassano (1510–92). As the book unfolds, Gabriel recalls Susanna’s plight while lightly weaving her story through his operation to find Madeline Hart. For those unfamiliar with the story of Susanna or those desiring a refresher, suggest this online illustrated version by the Musée Historique Environment Urbain (mheu) (http://ow.ly/ngYe0)—offered as both text and voice recording (which autoplays). The Jewish Women’s Archive (http://ow.ly/ngY5C) provides a retelling with commentary. Bassano’s painting of Susanna and the Elders may be viewed online at the National Gallery of Canada (http://ow.ly/ngXpZ). In his author’s note, Silva points out that the painting he describes in his book and the one by Bassano are different (mark the direction of Susanna’s gaze).
Pérez-Reverte, Arturo. The Flanders Panel. Houghton Mifflin. 2004. 304p. ISBN 9780156029582. pap. $14.95. F
Gabriel Allon is, among many other things, an art restorer. Fans who are equally interested in this aspect of his professional life as they are in his more adventurous assignments might enjoy Pérez-Reverte’s sophisticated, smart, and suspenseful crime novel, in which bright and intriguing art restorer Julia gets caught up in a fiendishly clever whodunit. When Julia discovers a question inscribed in a 15th-century painting, “Who killed the knight?”—a line long painted over and hidden for centuries—she triggers a modern-day murder filled with details related to the game of chess, the 500-year-old painting, and the contemporary art world. If the art-themed storyline strikes gold for your readers, point them to Lain Pears’s “Jonathan Argyll” series (art history mysteries) starring art historian Argyll and deputy Flavia DiStefano, a member of the Italian Art Squad (The Raphael Affair is the first).
Yergin, Daniel. The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. Penguin Pr.: Penguin Group (USA). 2011. 816p. ISBN 9781594202834. $37.95. SCI TECH
A driving element of The English Girl is the high-stakes political brinksmanship currently being played out in the oil trade. Readers interested in the struggle for control of big oil might enjoy Yergin’s accounting of the global energy future—in particular his opening chapter on Russian energy interests. While Pulitzer Prize-winning Yergin (The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power) pays great attention to fossil fuels, he also ventures into a wide array of alternative energy sources, including solar, wind, and algae. His focus (which nicely overlaps with Silva’s) is partly centered upon the power and multiple rewards controlling energy accrues, but he also casts a wider net and considers the global energy future as well by posing questions about the duration of current supplies, growing needs, developing technologies, environmental impacts, and security concerns.
Coonts, Stephen. Pirate Alley. (Tommy Carmellini). 8 CDs. library ed. unabridged. 10 hrs. Brilliance Audio. 2013. ISBN 9781423334682. $79.97; 1 MP3-CD. library ed.; digital download. F
Silva’s books have been narrated by Simon Vance, Phil Gigante, Guerin Barry, and John Lee. George Guidall read the first title in the series and has returned to narrate The Fallen Angel, Bk. 12, as well as The English Girl. Fans of Silva and Guidall looking for other fast-paced, politically-themed thrillers amplified with plenty of action and tactics, might enjoy Coonts’s nail-biter of a story featuring the return of Jake Grafton (not seen since Liberty (2003), as well as the ever-popular CIA agent Tommy Carmellini from The Disciple (2009). The two heroes collaborate when a gang of Somali pirates take hostage a cruise ship carrying 900 passengers. Grafton is tasked with the negotiations while Carmellini, as well as the Navy SEALs and other special-ops units, plot an intervention. Narrator Eric G. Dove reads with a deeply satisfying pace and intensity and his gravelly and resonant voice makes for an apt pairing with Guidall.
Eisler, Barry. Hard Rain. (John Rain). 10 CDs. library ed. unabridged. Brilliance Audio. 11 hrs. 2010. ISBN 9781441841087. $89.97; 1 MP3-CD. library ed.; digital download. F
Matching Silva for the mix of characterization and action, fast pacing, politics, international settings, hyper-competence, and the richness of background details, Eisler’s “John Rain” series is another set of books to suggest to fans of Silva’s Allon. Rain is an assassin for hire who, as the series develops, works for and runs from both the CIA and the Israeli Mossad. While Rain is a loner, he slowly surrounds himself with people he cares for—including several recurring characters. It is best, therefore, for readers to start at the beginning with Eisler’s debut Rain Fall, which sets the foundation for the character of Rain and the ethics of the series. For matching narrators however, the second book, Hard Rain, read by Dick Hill, might please fans of George Guidall more. Hill and Guidall share an ability to enhance suspense, create believable accents, and maintain a deliberate yet intense pace.