Review of “The English Girl” by Daniel Silva

I know there are plenty of fans of Daniel Silva, but I had never read his books. I am so glad to have changed that with The English Girl, because this writer is much better than the usual mediocre fare one finds in massive amounts in airports and other purveyors of fast-food-books. I didn’t even know, before reading it, that this book is in fact the 13th in a series featuring “the legendary Israeli spy and assassin” Gabriel Allon, but a lack of knowledge of the previous twelve didn’t affect my ability to enjoy the book in the slightest.

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Gabriel Allon is contacted to conduct a very sensitive mission for the British. Madeline Hart, a beautiful young up-and-coming star in the British governing party, has been kidnapped. To make matters worse, she happens to be the mistress of British Prime Minister Jonathan Lancaster. Graham Seymour, Deputy Director of Britain’s MI5 (analogous to the American FBI) calls upon Allon to help deal with the situation because if MI5 or MI6 (the intelligence service) got involved, it would leak. In addition, Seymour told Allon, “you’re also damn good at finding things…”

The kidnappers have left a note for Lancaster giving him seven days to meet their demands or Madeline will die. The British haven’t the slightest idea even who the kidnappers are, or how they knew about Madeline. So Allon not only has to race against the clock, but do it in the most unfavorable circumstances imaginable. He knows just who to recruit, however, to help him accomplish the impossible, and he takes off for the Isle of Corsica, where Madeline was last seen. From this beautiful island just off the South of France, the trail leads to Provence and elsewhere, as Allon risks his life to find the girl, find her kidnappers, or in the worse case scenario, avenge her death.

Isle of Corsica

Isle of Corsica

Discussion: I’m thinking if I were to write a mystery, I too would set it in places like Corsica and Provence, just so I would have to spend time there to do research. The author also takes us to Russia, and clearly, he is familiar with the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg as well. While I can’t vouch for his descriptions of the South of France region (“But Jim!” I said: “We need to go there so I can write this review properly!”), Silva’s impressions of Russia are exactly like mine when I went there. Well, except for being chased by murderers and all.

An “Author’s Note” after the story talks about the political situation in both Britain and Russia which play a role in the story. The issues are quite timely, especially given the current escalation in unhappy relations among the U.S., Britain, and Russia. You may, in fact, have heard of the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who had alleged there was a multimillion-dollar embezzlement schemesanctioned and carried out by Russian officials.. He was then arrested on what many were convinced were fabricated charges of tax fraud and subsequently beaten to death. Russia’s own human rights agency found that Magnitsky was tortured in prison and denied medical care. In retaliation, the U.S. Congress, rarely able to agree on anything, managed to come together in December 2012 to pass the bipartisan Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on 18 Russians involved in Magnitsky’s detention. In response, the Russian government blocked any adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens, and also came up with their own list of 18 people banned from entering Russia. (They include some names associated with human rights violations at Guantanamo, as well as some U.S. officials involved in the prosecution and trial of Russian arms and drugs smugglers who are serving prison time in the United States.)

Silva is outspokenly in the camp that believes that Vladimir Putin is leading Russia on a “steady descent into authoritarianism.” This outlook, definitely shared by most media in the U.S. and Britain, informs the background of the story.

Jill’s Evaluation: This book has a nice build-up of tension, intrigue, and danger; a very appealing hero in Allon; plenty of action, and some touching moments as well. I also like the humor the author employs to lighten the story – much better than the usual boring diversionary subplot. There’s a small bit involving a fortune-teller I would have omitted, but I like to keep paranormal elements strictly closed off in their own genre.

Jim’s Impression: While the story kept me turning the pages, I find that LeCarre (to whom Silva has been compared) is much more nuanced, and draws his characters with more depth. LeCarre writes about people with real human-like limitations. This book is about cartoon characters. In LeCarre’s books, no one is physically capable of doing anything that several of these characters routinely do. I loved the Jewish humor repartee, but like Jill, I would have cut out the fortune-teller part. But this book definitely provides a quick, entertaining read.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by HarperCollins, 2013

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10 Responses

  1. I believe I’ve read Silva’s books before, before blogging. As I recall it was a fun read, lots of action and intrigue, and fairly smart plotting. The best you can hope for in a fast-food book (haha). And no comment on Putin. He might track us down and have us poisoned.

  2. I’ve never read Silva either but I know his work is very popular. This sounds like a great book to take to the beach. The two of you have me curious about the fortune teller now.

  3. I’ve read all of Silva’s books, including a couple he wrote before he started the Gabriel Allon Series. If anything, he has gotten better as the series has progressed. How often can you say that?
    But here’s the interesting part. His best book, in my opinion, is his 1st – The Unlikely Spy. It’s about the Germans embedding spies into England in the 30’s in preparation for WWII and how England goes about exposing them. It’s definitely one of my favorite books.

  4. A few of Silva’s books are on my library wish list, but I haven’t read any of them yet. I feel like I should read the classics of the genre (like John le Carre!) before I branch out.

  5. So glad you reviewed this one! Bought it. I will need to read le Carre first though. Gotta get cracking on that. Thanks for the excellent review.

  6. I can’t believe I’ve never read Silva! This one definitely sounds like it could be taken straight from the news. Fantastic review and I’m going to add it to my tbr list! I may start with The Unlikely Spy since its recommended so highly above. Thanks for new author to explore!

  7. You’d enjoy Daniel Silva’s previous works. Isn’t it amazing to discover an author and to learn that he’d written many in a series so you can devour right away and not have to wait for his next book. I’m a Silva fan. You’re right, he’s not your run-of-the-mill ‘popular’ writer. He has style, depth, and full of insights into our political situations… past and current. Thanks for a very thorough review of The English Girl. I listened to this one on audio, so esp. happy to see your Corsica photo. ;)

  8. That fact that you read it and didn’t realize that it was part of a series says wonders. Silva has been recommended to me by more than one guy friend :)

  9. Awesome super duper review! I turned the last page, bleak at the thought that it was finished, and jumped onto the net – filled with the euphoria that comes from being in another world (for a bit of the time) and coming out ‘on top’. Elaine Charles and her book report radio show introduced me to Silva via an interview, and though I didn’t glean any secret insights, I did take an immediate liking to the political scenarios, and especially Silva’s political motiffs – I thought it awesome. I also think your review correctly portrays this book in a political sense – other reviewers seem to avoid the subject -tx

  10. I like Silva. Have read him for a number of years. Glad you discovered him. He is good popcorn reading.

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