Okay, here's the thing from a reviewer's viewpoint. You would probably not be reading the reviews of Daniel Silva's newest book in his Gabriel Allon spy series if you weren't already familiar with his writing. Silva's written 13 or so novels in the series and I think I've read most of them. And this one, "Portrait of a Spy" is a very good Daniel Silva/Gabriel Allon book. But it is similar to all the others I've read. And for me, a reviewer, it's a difficult book to review for that reason.
Daniel Silva is deeply concerned with the Middle East and the problems with radical Islamism that have risen from there in the last 60 years or so. Silva uses his books - characters and plots - to speak intelligently about those problems and the repercussions - terrorist bombings in both the Middle East countries and in Europe. Silva seems to publish a new book in the series every July. Now, this year and this book, 2011 and "Portrait of a Spy", pose a fairly tricky problem for Daniel Silva. How much of the "Arab Spring" - which actually began in mid-December, 2010 - does he include in his story? And does he include the assassination of Bin Ladin, which occurred fairly close to the time of publication? I could tell that he makes reference to Bin Ladin's death in a line towards the end where the text could still be changed in final proofs. The "Arab Spring" is mentioned towards the end. That's the problem he may have faced with the plot. But it's with the characters he's facing the most problems.
Gabriel Allon has not changed much in the 15 or so years he's been the subject of Daniel Silva's pen. And Chiara, his younger Italian wife is still gorgeous. They are still trying to retire to the English countryside and really go back to art restoration. But the Mossad is still trying to drag Gabriel back in to work on missions for them. Shomrom is still the aging lion of King Saul Boulevard, still hunting down the same Islamic terrorists. Other peripheral characters like English art dealers are still doing their selling and Israeli, British, and American agents are still doing their spycraft. In effect, not much has changed in the lives of Gabriel Allon and his cast of characters. I would love to see some further character development by Silva in next year's Allon book. Give him a kid - who is not killed in a terrorist attack. Let Chiara age a little and maybe become less gorgeous. Give her a haircut. Finally kill off Shomron, who seems to be a pain in everyone's side in Israeli intelligence.
So, why am I giving "Portrait" five stars, even with my silly complaints and comments? Because, it is a very good Daniel Silva/Gabriel Allon book. It gives the reader - who is usually well-acquainted with the characters and on-going plot line - another good read. And that's really the reason for a writer to write a review and for a reader to read one.
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