It’s uncanny how Daniel Silva keeps doing this.
The opening chapters of his new espionage thriller, “House of Spies,” feel like they were ripped from the headlines. There’s a devastating ISIS terror attack, hundreds killed in the West End of London.
But when Silva created the scenario in his book, the headlines hadn’t been written yet.
In the author’s note, Silva recounts the timeline: “I completed the first draft … on March 15, 2017. On March 22, Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old convert to Islam, turned onto Westminster Bridge in a rented Hyundai. While crossing the Thames River at speeds reaching 76 miles per hour, he mowed down several helpless pedestrians on the southern pavement and then crashed his car … outside the House of Parliament.
“There he stabbed to death 48-year-old police constable Keith Palmer before being shot by an armed officer. … Six people died, including Masood, and more than 50 were wounded.”
The scale of the attacks — one imagined, one tragically real — are very different. Yet “House of Spies” (Harper, $28.99) still feels quite prescient.
What’s more, it comes in the wake of last year’s “The Black Widow,” which was written before but published after the attacks in Paris and Brussels eerily mirrored his work.
Last year, when I interviewed Silva about “The Black Widow,” he said that watching news coverage of those events was nothing short of a nightmare.
“It was as if I had started writing a book in June 2001 about al Qaeda flying airplanes into the World Trade Center and then it came true,” Silva said. “It gave me pause. But I ultimately decided I had something that I wanted to say, something that needed to be said, and I moved forward on the project.”
It’s likely that the author — whose novels are perennial New York Times bestsellers, including eight No. 1s — experienced a similar crisis of conscience this year after the London incident.
That said, “House of Spies” is actually one of Silva’s most entertaining books.
In it, Gabriel Allon — the formidable spy, assassin and art restorer (a character often referred to as the “Jewish James Bond”) — concocts a crazy/brilliant scheme to track down and trap Saladin, the notorious ISIS leader who masterminded the attacks in both books.
Gabriel, now officially in charge of Israeli intelligence, first plunders the bank accounts of the Syrian ruler, stealing half a billion dollars to pay for his caper. Then he sets up two of his best agents to pose as a Russian gun merchant and his pampered wife, new owners of a lavish villa on the French Riviera.
It’s all part of an elaborate long con to win the trust of one of the richest men in France, a seemingly legitimate businessman who actually traffics in drugs that finance Saladin’s ISIS operations.
In short, Gabriel baits the hook and reels in the big fish by spending obscene amounts of money for property and paintings in Saint-Tropez and then throwing a series of hedonistic all-nighter parties.
It’s hard to imagine an agency actually using such an approach to combat terrorism. But in the hands of Silva, the most gifted espionage writer in the genre today, it works.
Then comes a big finish: efforts to save a major European city from an attack with a dirty bomb.
It’s not absolutely necessary to have read “The Black Widow” before cracking open “House of Spies,” but doing so definitely will enhance the experience.
In fact, longtime readers (this is book No. 17 in the series) will be rewarded. Several recurring characters are well-used here, especially Christopher Keller (the assassin-turned-English spy), Julian Isherwood (the English art dealer) and Natalie Mizrahi (the French doctor-turned-undercover operative).
This book also removes any concerns readers might have had about Gabriel taking the top job at Mossad. His idea of “operational chiefdom” involves rolling his sleeves up and getting dirty.
We wouldn’t have this intellectual man of action any other way.
House of Spies
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
- By Daniel Silva
- Harper, $28.99