Review: The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva


“In wartime,” Winston Churchill wrote, “truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” For Britain’s counterintelligence operations, this meant finding the unlikeliest agent imaginable-a history professor named Alfred Vicary, handpicked by Churchill himself to expose a highly dangerous, but unknown, traitor and protect the plans of the impending invasion of the Allied Forces. The Nazis, however, have also chosen an unlikely agent: Catherine Blake, a woman posing as a beautiful widow of a war hero, a hospital volunteer-and a Nazi spy under direct orders from Hitler to uncover the Allied plans for D-Day…

What I liked:

The main character was a joy to follow. Alfred reminded me of a younger, more romantic version of Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy of John Le Carre. A man full of weaknesses, a meek, balding history professor a bit out of touch with the reality, Alfred proved that a motivated, intelligent man can overcome many difficulties to achieve his goals. The fact that he, a minor manipulator, was also being manipulated by powers that be added a much-welcomed ironic overlay. Also Catherine was an agent worth reading about – perhaps not as nicely fleshed-out as Vicary but still very original, especially at those moments when she glanced deep inside herself and found a monster which was becoming uglier and uglier with every day of her mission.

The narrative was done very skillfully – I simply had to finish the novel no matter what although I was pretty sure the ending would’t be either pretty or happy. Such people as high-rank spies rarely survive to tell the tale and II World War was a very brutal affair. The atmosphere of the novel, which is set mainly in the wartime London, was done with a minute attention to detail.

What I didn’t like:

If only the characterization of Catherine was given even more attention I would sing my praises loud and long. She wasn’t bad, mind you, not bad at all, far more nuanced than your ordinary spy and baddie, but I felt the majority of her potential was wasted.

I also felt that in the case of this novel less would be actually more – there were so many secondary characters with so many back stories trailing behind  that they not only drowned each other down, they also detracted your attention from the main leads and it was a pity because the main leads were great indeed. Instead of letting them spread their literary wings the author made them compete with Hitler, Churchill, Canaris, Walter Schellenberg, Himmler, not to mention an even more numerous group of fictional characters.  And it doesn’t help that there are some leaden dialogue and groaners in the book, like this exchange between Vicary and his hated, shifty spymaster boss: ”Is that how you think of this, Sir Basil, a game?” ”Not just a game, Alfred, the game.’

Final verdict:

This is the first novel of Daniel Silva and maybe that’s why it is a bit uneven as first novels often tend to be. Still it was a fun WWII spy vs. spy suspense with great, deep characterization, mentioning some really good ideas, usually absent in such books. I am sure I’ll be reading more of Mr. Silva soon.

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5 Responses to Review: The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva

  1. blodeuedd says:

    *waves* I am all bleh today about life

  2. heidenkind says:

    Hm, I didn’t realize Silva’s first novel was a historical. I love how you described the hero but I’ll probably focus on reading the Gabriel Allon books before this one.

    • I admit Allon books are better – it is obvious the author’s been developing his narrative skills – but this one features basically the same components: a mystery, a game between different intelligence services, some romance as well.

  3. Pingback: Review: The Heist by Daniel Silva (Gabriel Allon 14) | portable pieces of thoughts

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