Okay, so I’m not throwing it back very far with this one. The English Girl came out in 2013, and remains one of my very favorite thrillers to date. It’s classic Daniel Silva, with plenty of beautiful locations, lots of suspense and enough action to keep you glued to the book for as long as it takes to finish it.
The English Girl is also unique, as it marks the beginning of several changes in the fictional life of Gabriel Allon, the legendary wayward son of Israeli intelligence.
For starters, Allon is getting older and for the first time the famed art restorer/spy is finally giving real thought to life after “the Office.” “The Office,” for those unaware, is the only name ever used to describe the Israeli intelligence service, which Allon has spent his decorated career working for, in Silva’s novels.
There’s also the question of children, and whether or not Gabriel and his wife Chiara are going to have any together. They’d like kids, but Gabriel isn’t getting younger, and they seem to be struggling to conceive.
Gabriel aged faster in earlier books, meaning there were longer jumps between stories. As Allon’s career as a spy nears its end, Silva is cramming his books much closer together on the timeline. The English Girl, The Heist, and The English Spy all take place in less than one year’s time. I love that, because I’m in no hurry at all to see Gabriel enter the next phase of his career. However, I must admit I’m intrigued with the way Silva is setting things up, but more on that later.
This book highlights all the things readers have come to love about Gabriel and appreciate about Daniel Silva. While this genre is full of spies and secret operatives, nobody is quite like Allon. Or to be more accurate, no character is like one particular side of him. That side, of course, being that he’s a world famous art restorer, which is actually the perfect cover for his other job.
Daniel Silva’s name is without a doubt listed among the most elite authors this genre has ever known, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
A beautiful English woman goes missing on the island of Corsica. That’s hardly Israel’s problem, but when the girl’s past threatens to bring down the British Prime Minister’s career over a juicy scandal, things take an interesting turn.
A note is delivered by the kidnappers saying only, “you have seven days or the girl dies.” No demands, no ransom amount, nothing. Also with it was a DVD, which showed the young English girl, Madeline Hart, admitting to having intimate relationships with Prime Minister Jonathan Lancaster.
Lancaster goes to Graham Seymour, the longtime deputy director of the British Secret Service, to help in his moment of crisis. Seymour would much prefer his Prime Minister just tell the public the truth, but he’s also not a fan of the leader of his county being blackmailed. The other problem Seymour has is that MI5 has enough leaks that he’s not confident such an operation would remain a secret. For that reason he begins thinking of people who could help, which ultimately leads to him getting on a plane to Israel.
It’s Seymour’s visit that persuades Gabriel to help, though he was reluctant at first. Once he was shown the letter and the DVD, Gabriel gets to work, first enlisting a little help of his own – from a man who died years ago.
Gabriel has some history with the island of Corsica, which readers of past novels will undoubtedly remember well. Part of that history involves an ex-British Military and Intelligence Officer named Christopher Keller. Keller was long thought by his country to be dead, the tragic result of a battlefield operation gone bad. In reality, Keller is alive and well, now serving as a killer for hire, and working out of Corsica.
Keller is an exceptional operative, with just one blemish on his record. He’d previously been assigned the task of killing one man that got away, Gabriel Allon. Now the two are teaming up to find Madeline Hart, forming a very formidable and lethal duo.
While Gabriel is somewhat detached at first, he soon develops feelings for the English girl. Not romantic feelings by any means, but rather the desire to protect her. So help he does, with the best of intentions at heart. Both Gabriel and Keller believe they have found the girl, when the plot twists for the first time, knocking the reader off balance.
Making things more difficult for Gabriel is Lancaster’s advisor, Jeremy Fallon. Fallon refuses to take Gabriel’s advice during several phases of the operation, most notably the negotiation process. At first he’s an annoyance, but soon Gabriel develops his own suspicions about Fallon and his intentions.
The story continues to twist and turn, all leading up to a brilliant reveal that will stun readers in a way only Daniel Silva can provide. Just when Gabriel thinks he has everything figured out, he discovers nothing is what it once seemed to be.
Why I loved it
Daniel Silva is every bit the master with his words that Gabriel Allon is with a paintbrush and a gun.
The English Girl is a true spy thriller with many moving parts and plot twists, but it’s also a beautiful character study piece. Readers will learn even more about Gabriel Allon, who is without question one of the most expertly developed characters ever created. Silva is constantly peeling back layers to reveal just who our hero is and what makes him tick.
One scene in particular has flashes of an emotional memory from The Kill Artist, Daniel Silva’s first Gabriel Allon novel. Because the author has fleshed out his protagonist so well over the years, readers are deeply connected to Gabriel. You’ll immediately feel his pain and relive the past memories before the words even appear on the page. I don’t want to give anything away, but I promise you’ll know the scene when you read it.
Daniel Silva is a master thriller author, but he does what nobody else seems capable of producing. He brings raw emotion, making the reader experience a roller coaster of ups and downs as the story unfolds. Thrillers are typically fast paced, usually packed with action, perfect for reading at the beach or on vacation. Silva’s novels are all that, but they contain something else too — soul.
Reading one of Daniel Silva’s books isn’t just an escape, it’s an experience unlike anything else.
Why you should read it
Silva’s hunt for Madeline Hart is captivating, but there’s plenty else going on as well. As I said earlier, The English Girl marks the first of three novels that run very close together. One of the running themes is what Gabriel will do once he’s no longer able to be on the front lines of Israeli intelligence.
Ari Shamron, who previously served as head of “the Office,” still wants Gabriel to take the director position when he’s ready to retire. Uzi Navot, the current director, is doing a fine job, but then again he was neither Shamron’s nor the Prime Minister’s first choice to fill the position. That honor went to Gabriel, who for the first time indicates he might be willing to think about it.
Ultimately, Gabriel’s decision is revealed over the course of the following two novels, The Heist and The English Spy. I suspect we will begin to see a transition in Gabriel’s career starting with Daniel Silva’s next novel, which is still untitled, due out this July.
Few thrillers are as good as The English Girl, and very few authors that have written in this genre have Silva’s level of talent. For my money, the Mt. Rushmore of thriller authors (in no particular order) are: Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor and Daniel Silva. Don’t just read The English Girl, read all of Silva’s novels. Each one is a real treat!
Author: Daniel Silva
Pages: 496 (hardcover)
Release Date: July 16, 2013