Thursday, September 3, 2009

Daniel Silva: Master of the Spy Thriller

Let me explain why I am reading through all of Silva’s novels and will not let anything deter me!
by Charlie Leck

On the 5th of August – less than a month ago – I was off driving somewhere in my car and, as I usually do, I was listening to Public Radio. In this case, I was tuned into the Midmorning Show from Minnesota Public Radio. Kerri Miller was interviewing Daniel Silva, spy novelist, and I got very intrigued about the writer and the extraordinary characters that he creates.

Silva was a journalist before turning novelist. On her show, Miller called it slipping from “fact into fiction.” His news assignments were in the Middle East and in Washington, D.C., and it is therefore no surprise that much of the action takes place in those areas. European cities, especially Venice, Rome and Vienna dominate the books I’ve read so far; though the reader gets to spend plenty of time in many other European cities and in both South and North America.

Silva wrote his first novel, Unlikely Spy, while still employed with CNN as the executive producer of all of the political talk shows on that network (14 different shows); and managed to get it published. He didn’t have the courage to set off on a permanent career writing fiction and he struggled through his second work, The Mark of the Assassin, on the side also; however he found it too grueling and quit his day job before doing the last draft of that second book. Since, of course, he is a full-time novelist.

What is it about Daniel Silva’s spy/thriller novels that I find so compelling? Should I be embarrassed to admit to my distinguished readers that I really like this guy? Perhaps it is more correct to say that I am addicted to his novels.

Well, I knew you’d ask and I’ve been worried about my reply, but I’ll try to be a straight shooter with you. There are so many important and significant books I want to read in this last quarter of my life that it is reasonable to ask me why I am wasting time reading Daniel Silva. That’s a fair question and, perhaps, even a good question; but it is a bit rough on Silva, I think, because he is a good writer and a pretty slick story teller.

I listened to that complete radio interview a few weeks ago, when Silva was hyping his most recent novel, The Defector, and began thinking that this Silva guy is really quite bright and very imaginative. The plots in his books are pretty typical, but the descriptions of characters and situations and places are not at all typical. There’s plenty of background research and I suspect that Silva travels to the sites he recreates in his books. In other words, I learn a lot. I also suspect, because I detest travel so much these days, that I’m getting to travel, in fantasy, through Silva’s adventures.

Gabriel Allon
And then there is the matter of my attachment to one of Silva’s characters – the main character, or the protagonist – in his latest novels. Gabriel Allon is an art restorer who has established himself as the finest in the world and works on some of the finest pieces of art in the world. Silva has great fun choosing which pieces on which Gabriel is going to work. His descriptions of them in the subsequent book and of Gabriel’s methods are truly intriguing. So, I am learning about significant art and artists. Gabriel also happens to be an agent of Israel’s notorious “office.” This fictional character led the “Black September” assassination of those who were responsible for the slaughter of the Israeli Olympians in 1972. What a double life. Does it seem incredible? It almost is, but Silva pulls it off.

Wining and Dining
Like most of the writers of spy stories, Silva’s characters do lots of dining in delightful establishments around the world and they drink lots of fine wine. Frankly, that’s one of the things I enjoy about these kinds of books. I learn so much about international food and about exceptional wines. Silva’s treatment of this subject ranks right up there with the best I’ve read. So in addition to all my vicarious traveling, I also get to dine in a lot of wonderful places as well.

This is a digression, but it makes me think of John Grisham’s wonderful little book, Playing for Pizza, that was definitely not one of his most popular. I, however, thought it was terrific because it was set in the Parma region of Italy and the characters were always dining out in wonderful, little regional restaurants and Grisham’s descriptions of the food and wine of Parma were so incredible that I wanted to jump immediately on a plane and fly right over there to experience some of the splendors of Parma’s food.

Silva does that to me also.

So, what I’m saying is that I learn a great deal about food, dining, wine and travel from Silva. It makes me want to hop a plane for Argentina and to go back to Vienna to see the sights and sounds and smells I missed when I was there the first time.

I also learn about modern history from Silva – especially matters related to the Second World War and the holocaust. As a matter of fact, sometimes I learn more than I wish to learn and I find myself flinching at the descriptions of man’s inhumanity to man. I just finished reading Death in Vienna and that book brought me closer to the reality of Hitler’s death camps than I ever wanted to go. I found myself trembling, from time to time, as I read this quite extraordinary account.

Well, my friends know I’m an obsessive personality. Now I am revealing myself to all my readers. When I latch on to something, I grab it with a mighty grip. When I listened to that Public Radio interview, I decided to start with Silva’s first novel and work my way through them. That was three weeks ago. So, I’ve already read…


And now I’m reading through PRINCE OF FIRE.

Here’s my point
I’m recommending Daniel Silva’s novels to you if you like spy/thriller novels. He’s as good as they come.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I usually don't read fiction, but....
    I heard about The Defector and thought I better start with Moscow Rules. Loaded up my Kindle and I haven't stopped yet. Some of the most compelling writing and interesting characters I've come across, and in a way, "truer" than most of what passes for non-fiction these days. Truly great stuff.

  2. I don't normally post comments from anonymous sources, but the one above looked innocent enough. I've only one Silva book remaining to read and, then, I will have read all his stuff. He's not bad and there is plenty to learn from reading him. (CL)