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Book Nook - 31-07-2017

Monday, July 31, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Terror Trail
Daniel Silva’s unique creation Gabriel Allon—an Israeli spy, skilled assassin and expert art restorer-- returns inHouse Of Spies, the seventeenth book in the series. As he goes about tracking and killing terrorists across the world, the reader feels safe for a while with Allon looking out for them.

Silva is also eerily prescient—in his last book The Black Widow, he wrote about attacks in Paris, and they really happened; in House Of Spies, there is a terror attack in London’s West End, that bring to mind the Manchester carnage. He writes with authority on the goings on in the Middle East, and does not mince words when writing about Islamic fundamentalism.

The man who leads the Islamic State and orchestrates terror attacks all over the West is the mysterious Saladin. In The Black Widow, Allon had managed to get Natalie Mizrahi undercover into Saladin’s lair. Being a doctor, she could not bring herself to kill a wounded man, even a monster like Saladin. However, she got vital information about the attacks planned in Washington, but Allon was unable to prevent them. Now he is seething and obsessed with tracking Saladin.

For those who haven’t encountered Allon yet, he is a most unusual assassin—he was plucked out of art school by his mentor and father figure, Ari Shamron to join a crack team and avenge the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. When he returned, he had aged much beyond his years and also become almost indestructible, although he came close to death several times. He becomes Shamron’s best intelligence officer in the field and also the world’s best restorer of art treasures. During the course of the series, he lost his infant son in a bomb blast that left his first wife, Leah, in an almost vegetative state. He met and fell in love with fellow intelligence operative Chiara and married her. She gave birth to twins and is temporarily out of action.

In House Of Spies, he takes over as the chief of Israel’s intelligence services, but refuses to oust his predecessor Uri Navot, moving him to an office across the aisle. When the London attacks take place, Allon does not want to sit behind a desk; he is out there with his crack team, pulling that one loose thread—the Moroccan gun supplier-- that could lead to Saladin.

The trail leads them to the glamorous French seaside town of Saint-Tropez, where they prepare an elaborate façade to trap wealthy and ruthless businessman Jean-Luc Martel and his British girlfriend Olivia Watson into helping them to reach Saladin, who is hiding out in Morocco.

Martel is so well-connected that he thinks nobody will dare to expose the fact that behind his chain of legitimate businesses is his connection to the drug mafia that funds Saladin and his terrorist groups. His old foe-turned friend, Christopher Keller, whom he had brought back from the dead and placed in Britain’s intelligence service MI6, gets a starting part in this book, as does his former employer the Corsican Don Orsati; Natalie Mizrahi is crucial to the plot, since she is the only one who has seen Saladin properly. A massive operation is launched by the American, British, French intelligence services, led by Allon’s Israeli team.

Patience is Allon’s greatest virtue as he and his team slowly connect all the dots and go after Saladin, battling suicide bombers and jinns. The book is, maybe, not as nail-biting as The Black Widow, where the female undercover agent was in constant danger, but it is thrilling nonetheless. The Saint-Tropez portion is also enjoyable as the bait is thrown to Martel and Watson and they have no choice but to bite.

There is no scope for Allon to do any art restoration in this novel, so the reader will miss Silva’s insights into the work of the Old Masters. Maybe in the next book. Meanwhile, this one is a must-read.

House Of Spies
By Daniel Silva
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 544

 

Excerpt of House Of Spies
When their respective doors were open, which was usually the case, Gabriel and Navot could see one another across the foyer. They spoke early each morning by secure phone, lunched together—sometimes in the staff dining room, sometimes alone in Gabriel’s office—and spent a few minutes of quiet time in the evening, accompanied by Gabriel’s opera, which Navot, despite his sophisticated Viennese lineage, detested. Navot had no appreciation for music, and the visual arts bored him. Otherwise, he and Gabriel were in complete agreement on all matters, at least those that involved the Office and the security of the State of Israel. Navot had fought for and won access to Gabriel’s ear anytime he wanted it, and he insisted on being present at all important gatherings of the senior staff. Usually, he maintained a sphinxlike silence, with his thick arms folded across his wrestler’s chest and an inscrutable expression on his face. But occasionally he would finish one of Gabriel’s sentences for him, as if to make it clear to everyone in the room that, as the Americans were fond of saying, there was no daylight between them. They were like Boaz and Jachin, the twin pillars that stood at the entrance of the First Temple of Jerusalem, and anyone who even thought about playing one against the other would pay a heavy price. Gabriel was the people’s chief, but he was still the chief and he would not tolerate intrigue in his court.

Not that any was likely, for the other officers who comprised his senior staff were thick as thieves. All were drawn from Barak, the elite team that had carried out some of the most storied operations in the history of a storied service. For years they had worked from a cramped subterranean set of rooms that had once been used as a dumping ground for old furniture and equipment. Now they occupied a chain of offices stretching from Gabriel’s door. Even Eli Lavon, one of Israel’s most prominent biblical archaeologists, had agreed to forsake his teaching position at Hebrew University and return to full-time Office employment. Nominally, Lavon oversaw the watchers, pickpockets, and those who specialized in planting listening devices and hidden cameras. In truth, Gabriel used him in any way he saw fit. The finest physical surveillance artist the Office ever produced, Lavon had been looking over Gabriel’s shoulder since the days of Operation Wrath of God. His little hutch, with its shards of pottery and ancient coins and tools, was the place where Gabriel often went for a few minutes of quiet. Lavon had never been much of a talker. Like Gabriel, he did his best work in the dark, and without a sound.

A few of the old hands questioned whether it was wise for Gabriel to load up the executive suite with so many loyalists and relics from his glorious past. For the most part, however, they kept their concerns to themselves. No director general— other than Shamron, of course—had ever assumed control of the Office with more experience or goodwill. Gabriel had been playing the game longer than anyone in the business, and along the way he had collected an extraordinary array of friends and accomplices. The British prime minister owed his career to him; the pope, his life. Even so, he was not the sort of fellow to shamelessly collect on an old debt. The truly powerful man, said Shamron, never had to ask for a favor.

But he had enemies, too. Enemies who had destroyed his first wife and who had tried to destroy his second as well. Enemies in Moscow and Tehran who viewed him as the only thing standing in the way of their ambitions. For now, they had been dealt with, but doubtless they would be back. So, too, would the man with whom he had last done battle. Indeed, it was this man who occupied the top spot on the new director general’s to-do list. The Office computers had assigned him a randomly generated code name. But behind the cipher-protected doors of King Saul Boulevard, Gabriel and the new leaders of the Office referred to him by the grandiose nom de guerre he had given himself. Saladin…They spoke of him with respect and even a trace of foreboding. He was coming for them. It was only a matter of time.

There was a photograph making the rounds of like-minded intelligence services. It had been snapped by an asset of the CIA in the Paraguayan town of Ciudad del Este, which was located in the notorious Tri-Border Area, or Triple Frontier, of South America. It showed a man, large, solidly built, Arab in appearance, drinking coffee at an outdoor café, accompanied by a certain Lebanese trader suspected of having ties to the global jihadist movement. The camera angle was such that it rendered facial-recognition software ineffective. But Gabriel, who was blessed with one of the finest pairs of eyes in the trade, was confident the man was Saladin. He had seen Saladin in person, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., two days before the worst terrorist attack on the American homeland since 9/11. Gabriel knew how Saladin looked, how he smelled, how the air reacted when he entered or left a room. And he knew how Saladin walked. Like his namesake, he moved with a pronounced limp, the result of a shrapnel wound that had been crudely tended to in a house of many rooms and courts near Mosul in northern Iraq. The limp was now his calling card. A man’s physical appearance could be changed in many ways. Hair could be cut or dyed, a face could be altered with plastic surgery. But a limp like Saladin’s was forever.

How he managed to escape from America was a matter of intense debate, and all subsequent efforts to locate him had failed. Reports had him variously in Asunción, Santiago, and Buenos Aires. There was even a rumor he’d found sanctuary in Bariloche, the Argentine ski resort so beloved by fugitive Nazi war criminals. Gabriel dismissed the idea out of hand. Still, he was willing to entertain the notion that Saladin was hiding somewhere in plain sight. Wherever he was, he was planning his next move. Of that, Gabriel was certain.

The recent attack on Washington, with its ruined buildings and monuments and catastrophic death toll, had established Saladin as the new face of Islamic terror. But what would be his encore? The American president, in one of his final interviews before leaving office, declared that Saladin was incapable of another large-scale operation, that the U.S. military response had left his once-formidable network in tatters. Saladin had responded by ordering a suicide bomber to detonate himself outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Small beer, countered the White House. Limited casualties, no Americans among the dead. The desperate act of a man on his way out.

Perhaps, but there were other attacks as well. Saladin had struck Turkey virtually at will—weddings, buses, public squares, Istanbul’s busy airport—and his adherents in Western Europe, those who spoke his name with something like religious fervor, had carried out a series of lone-wolf attacks that had left a trail of death across France, Belgium, and Germany. But something big was coming, something coordinated, a terror spectacular to rival the calamity he had inflicted on Washington.

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