I do owe Tasha/heidenkind again (*mwah*) because I read about this one for the first time on her beautiful blog. Go and check her brilliant review of The English Girl – it can be found here.
Madeline Hart used to have such a bright future. Small wonder: being a brilliant girl with a face and body of a model, a graduate from the best schools, already earmarked as an MP candidate by the British ruling party she was doomed to succeed. But she didn’t. One summer everything changed. She went with some friends to Corsica and disappeared. The local police was able to find only her red scooter.
The disappearance would have been just another sad, cautionary tale about a fate that might await young women travelling abroad if not for one thing: some weeks afterwards Jonathan Lancaster, the British Prime Minster, got an envelope with current photos of Madeline, a DVD on which the girl admitted she’d had an affair with him, a ransom demand of 10 million pounds and a deadline: 7 days. It was a real political bombshell, able to ruin his career not to mention his marriage. What will he do?
When the truth is too ugly to be revealed, special services might help. Gabriel Allon is asked by his British counterpart a favour – find the girl, destroy the evidence and save the British PM. He cannot refuse – when he needed it most the British provided him a shelter. Anyway finding a hostage sounds like a piece of cake for a living legend of the Israeli Mossad, right? Soon enough, however, he finds out that his opponent is far more skilled and far better organized than your average kidnapper. What will the case of the English Girl reveal when he gets to the bottom of it?
It is the thirteenth part of a series and, having read almost all the other books, I can safely pronounce it the best so far. Yes, you read that right: the best, not the worst. Why?
First of all because of the characters. The book is not populated by dummies who just shoot, fight and glower at their enemies – an affliction too many thrillers share. Mr. Silva knows how to make them human and funny from time to time – they have their extra-curricular hobbies, they banter, they joke, they have their likes and dislikes, they suffer, they have nightmares. In this one I especially enjoyed the friendly banter between Gabriel Allon, the main lead, and Christopher Keller, an ex-SAS assassin who had hunted him in the past – their sense of humour just cracked me up. It was in the spirit of those best Bond movies, when James was actually allowed a sense of humour.
Secondly the plot. It was nicely balanced, clever, neither too dynamic nor too slow, even intelligent – I must add I enjoyed the ending thoroughly.
Third the author doesn’t forget his characters. They might get a reprieve for a part or two but then they reemerge and you feel as if an old friend knocked at your door. It also means the series isn’t populated by meaningless, instantly forgettable ephemerides whose shelf life lasts just one story and then are killed because nobody knows what to do with them.
Fourth, because of the baddies. In previous parts, these were invariably Islamic fundamentalists and Palestinian terrorists (often combined into one). This time the author made Allon fight Russian special agents from former KGB, representing Putin and his fellow ‘siloviki’, and it worked for me fine.
Fifth, the novel was well-researched. Reading it I could feel the author really had consulted hundreds of books, newspaper and magazine articles, and Web sites while preparing it. So much praise – time for some complaints now :).
Of course The English Girl was hardly flawless. There were too many boring, heavy-handed infodumps scattered around, often including the backstories of different characters for those who haven’t read the previous books. Fortunately they were also relatively short.
I didn’t especially enjoy the character of the Corsican soothsayer – she seemed simply gratuitous and her predictions – silly. There was also that recurring, pro-Jewish slant, so characteristic for the earlier books: a Jew couldn’t be bad/mean/cruel. I wish the author broke that mould at one point, including e.g. Jewish fundamentalists/orthodox Jews who are, in my humble opinion, as narrow-minded, deluded and misogynistic as their Muslim counterparts. Overall with a bit more ‘chiaroscuro’ and a bit more diversity in the characters’ line-up the series wouldn’t be good, it would be brilliant. Still it gets better and better so there is some hope, after all.
I am really looking forward to reading the fourteenth part – in fact I’ve already pre-ordered it. I suppose it is the biggest compliment I can pay to a series that long. No, the adventures of Mr. Allon haven’t bored me yet.