Ripped From the Headlines: Daniel Silva’s “The Other Woman”
Every summer, I look forward to reading the latest novel about Israeli super spy—and master art restorer—Gabriel Allon. As in the case of its 17 predecessors, D.C.-based author Daniel Silva’s 2018 “The Other Woman” did not disappoint.
Let me count the ways the Allon series enthralls: It has a basis in history as well as contemporary political relevance; the writing and storytelling are high quality (Silva started out as a journalist, employed by UPI, then CNN); the plots are never predictable, with ample twists and turns; and the recurring cast of characters is full of multifaceted, compelling personalities. This novel takes place in familiar (D.C. and even Montgomery County) as well as unfamiliar (Israel, Vienna and Russia) settings.
As for the novel’s pacing, it starts at nerve-wracking speed, then slows to enable the reader to learn the various characters’ backstories before picking up again and creating a complex tapestry of treachery. My anxiety drove me to read almost nonstop to make sense of all the threads as quickly as possible, poised between extremely eager to know what would happen next while not wanting the story to end.
After being immersed in the 467 pages of “The Other Woman” (I am a steadfast fan of getting lost in lengthy books), my only regret is that it will be another year until the next installment. My relationship with this series started in 2000 with “The Kill Artist” before Allon became head of Israeli intelligence; back then, he was more of an occasional special project spy who had time for his meticulous art restoration.
While each book stands on its own—Silva includes the most pertinent historical details about his characters in each book for newbies—I highly recommend beginning at the beginning to get the full flavor and impact of the characters’ backstories. The author’s successive renderings of his characters in various dangerous situations help readers respect their abilities and sympathize with them and their goals, regardless of their often-necessary cold-blooded actions that weigh on their souls.
Still, what impressed me most in “The Other Woman” was the extent to which the story reflects what is going on in the world today—in terms of the ongoing Cold War-that-never-really-ended between the Russians and the free world, and the interference in world politics by Putin (Silva refers to him as the tsar) and the KGB (here called the SVR).
That Russia’s strategy in pursuing world dominance has involved patient, long-term planning is pivotal to Silva’s plot. Here—as in TV’s winning series “The Americans” and presumably in reality—they prepare and plant their assets impeccably. And they are brutal when crossed. It’s too easy to imagine the novel’s most terrifying moments actually occurring in 2018 where reality seems even more outlandish than fiction.
A related aspect is Silva’s depiction of the fragile but critical relationships between the good guys, that is, the intelligence services of the United States, Israel, Great Britain and France.
To make the present-day narrative seem more credible, Silva sourced his story in documented spy history and makes it an essential element of the plot. Harold Adrian Russell “Kim” Philby was a high-ranking member of British intelligence who worked as a double agent before defecting to the Soviet Union in 1963. In a nod to the setting’s authenticity, Silva said in the post-story Author’s Note that the real Philby “did indeed reside in the large, tan colonial house that still stands on Nebraska Avenue in Tenleytown.”
The Author’s Note also offers Silva’s views on current world politics and how they affect his fiction. Among the most relevant quotes:
“Russia under Vladimir Putin is both revanchist [the political manifestation of the will to reverse territorial losses incurred by a country] and paranoid, a dangerous combination. Economically and demographically weak, Putin uses his powerful intelligence services and cyberwarriors as a force multiplier.”
“Putin and Putinism are on the march. The strong-man and the ‘corporate state’—by another name, fascism—are all the rage. Western-style democracy and the global institutions that created an unprecedented period of peace in Europe are suddenly out of vogue.”
And finally, Silva admits, “In some ways, this is a sustained, novel-length argument about how the Kremlin and SVR might well have its meat hooks into the sitting American President.”