Two of Daniel Silva’s most recent books (The English Girl and The Heist) ran very close together, with The English Spy picking up just three days later. These three novels, in my opinion, show exactly why Daniel Silva is one of the premier authors of his generation.
There is so much going on, with so many moving parts, that the reader truly has to invest time and attention into everything. If you do, the investment will pay off in a big way, as this trio of books might just be the best three consecutive novels the genre has ever seen.
Because recalling the details are so important, I typed up a summary to help those who have already read Silva’s past three novels remember where things left off. That way you can jump right into The Black Widow this summer, having just refreshed your memory with how his last book, The English Spy, ended!
So, while this should go without saying, SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read Daniel Silva’s The English Girl, The Heist, or The English Spy, STOP READING!
If you’re an avid reader who’s been reading books all year and would like a detailed reminder of where things with Gabriel Allon left off before diving into The Black Widow, then scroll down to see a quick recap.
For everyone else, this is your last chance…
(Seriously, no more chances after this!)
Okay, here we go!
The English Spy opens with an iconic member of the British Royal Family (and one of the most famous women in the world) being murdered. The princess, who was enjoying a vacation on her yacht, was killed in an explosion.
Shortly after the princess’ death made national headlines, Uzi Navot, the current chief of the Office, made his way to London to meet with Graham Seymour.
Seymour, Chief of Britain’s MI6, listened as Uzi explained that many years ago, the Israelis had offered to take out a man that posed a serious threat to Britain’s national security. The man, Eamon Quinn, was an experienced bomb-maker working with the IRA. It was Quinn, the Office had learned, who was responsible for the murderous explosion that rocked the princess’ yacht.
The princess’ death marks the second time that Eamon Quinn has devastated the British people. The first time was after Graham Seymour and other British officials turned down the Israelis’ offer to have him killed. Quinn personally delivered a five-hundred-pound car bomb into the streets of London, killing twenty-nine people and injuring two hundred others.
(Those events took place close to or during the same time as the events in Silva’s first Allon novel, The Kill Artist. Gabriel, at the time, was living in a cottage in Cornwall near the Helford River. He was supporting his first wife, Leah, who was institutionalized after the death of their son—who died in a car explosion meant to kill Gabriel—by cleaning paintings for Julian Isherwood.)
At that time (Gabriel would learn later on), Christopher Keller was a British commando tracking down IRA terrorists. In the process, he fell in love with a woman named Elizabeth Conlin. Elizabeth’s father, an IRA field commander, didn’t approve of their relationship. Graham Seymour forbade it, and Keller agreed to break it off under one condition: He wanted to see her one more time.
The last time he attempted to sneak into Elizabeth Conlin’s bedroom, Christopher was ambushed by her father and other IRA members, who interrogated Keller at a place called the Fagan Farm. One of the men, Eamon Quinn, was present and tasked with killing Keller after the interrogation concluded. Instead, Keller broke free and killed four men. Unfortunately, Quinn was not one of them, as he’d gotten away.
A few days later, Elizabeth’s dead body was found. Her head had been shaven and her throat slit. Keller heard that the man responsible for killing the woman he loved was none other than Eamon Quinn.
Graham Seymour flew to Rome, where Gabriel had stayed after Chiara, his current wife, traveled back to Jerusalem. Seventy-two hours prior, Gabriel and Chiara had found Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, events that occurred in the previous novel, The Heist.
The painting was now resting safely at the Vatican, and Gabriel had stayed behind to begin the restoration process himself. Chiara, while unhappy, understood her husband’s desire to restore one final painting.
The reason the Caravaggio would be his last restoration was twofold: First, Gabriel was going to be a father. Chiara was pregnant with twins, and just weeks away from delivering them. Secondly, and this is another running theme of the previous two novels, Gabriel had finally agreed to become the next chief of the Office.
As an aging, expectant father, and not to mention the chief-in-waiting, Gabriel was done in the field. That is, until Graham Seymour threatened to haul Allon’s friend Christopher Keller, now working as an assassin for Don Orsati out of Corsica, back to Britain on criminal charges.
For those who don’t remember, Keller was first introduced in Silva’s second Gabriel Allon novel, The English Assassin. He returns as an ally of Allon’s in The English Girl before teaming with Gabriel once again in The Heist.
The English Spy is the fourth book to feature Christopher Keller, and the titles of these novels themselves serve as fun Easter eggs, as Keller literally goes from an English assassin to an English spy…but more on that in a minute!
Gabriel countered Graham’s offer by demanding that Keller be hired as an MI6 agent, which would allow him to officially return home once and for all. (Remember, he was assumed dead after a friendly fire incident years prior, but obviously survived. Rather than announce he was still alive, he went on to use his talents as a freelance assassin-for-hire.)
A deal is reached, and Allon heads to Corsica to meet with Keller, who is just returning from a job he did for Don Orsati. It’s at this point that Keller fills Gabriel in on all the previous details regarding Eamon Quinn and Elizabeth Conlin.
Keller goes on to explain that he’d followed Quinn’s “career” from afar, but never attempted to kill him because Don Orsati forbade it. Christopher jumps at the chance to help Gabriel, eager to avenge the death of Elizabeth and the many other victims Quinn has murdered.
Realizing that it was Eamon Quinn who played a large role in Keller exiting his former life and who was now pulling him back into the game, Gabriel hesitated to proceed. He noted that this was personal for Keller, and that “when it’s personal, it gets messy.”
With Keller finally agreeing to leave his life of luxury on Corsica behind and formally join the MI6, the two set out to track down Eamon Quinn.
Finding Eamon Quinn
Their journey began in Dublin, Ireland.
Keller suggests starting their search by questioning Liam Walsh, who had done a “little of everything” for the IRA. Keller kills three men in a cottage in Clifton County where Liam was staying, and then Gabriel joined Christopher and bound Walsh with duct tape before helping to carry him to the trunk of the car.
Liam admitted he was once with Quinn in Omagh, Northern Ireland. He had been present for the bombing and was originally supposed to be the one driving the car that day. Instead, Quinn opted to drive at the last minute and went rogue to maximize the number of deaths.
Afterward, Walsh said that he settled in Dublin. He told Allon and Keller that Quinn went into hiding in Syria before calling up a friend, Muammar Gaddafi, and heading to Libya. From there, Quinn went to Venezuela, after Gaddafi called Hugo Chavez and personally asked him to take Quinn.
Quinn worked with terrorists on Margarita Island, freelancing for both Hamas and Hezbollah. Chavez was so thankful to Quinn that he gave him a passport and new identity, and even a new face to go with it. In fact, Gaddafi’s doctor personally traveled to perform the surgery that heavily altered Quinn’s appearance.
A year after arriving in Venezuela, a senior man from VEVAK (the Iranian intelligence service) came and took Quinn to Tehran. There, Quinn helped develop antitank weapons before traveling to Lebanon to help Hezbollah build roadside bombs. After that, he went to Yemen to work with al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
During the interrogation, Liam says he last saw Eamon Quinn in Sotogrande, Spain. Quinn asked him to deliver money to his wife and daughter in Belfast, which was news to both Gabriel and Keller, as neither the Israelis nor the MI6 knew Quinn was married or a father.
Liam helped Gabriel draw a composite sketch of Quinn’s new appearance by carefully detailing his new facial features. After that, Keller drove Walsh towards the Eastern end of Killary Harbor, told him to exit the vehicle, and then executed him by placing a single bullet in his head.
Traveling to Belfast, Keller and Gabriel meet with one of Christopher’s old sources, a man named Billy Conway. Billy provided them with an address for Maggie Donahue, Quinn’s wife. Gabriel searched her house while Maggie was busy at work, and eventually found a photo of Quinn in her daughter’s bedroom, along with a partial ticket stub.
Keller recognized the ticket stub from a job he’d done for Don Orsati in Lisbon. Contacting Graham Seymour at MI6, Gabriel was able to confirm that Maggie Donahue had indeed previously traveled to Lisbon.
Adding a Tracker to the Team
To help find Quinn, Gabriel requests the services of a master tracker, Eli Lavon.
Lavon eventually found a location for Quinn, who was living under a fake name, but urged Gabriel to forget about him and return home to his wife. Lavon offered to stay with Keller himself and see the job through. Gabriel declined, and the team moved into an apartment building directly across from Quinn’s address.
During a brief conversation, Lavon gives Gabriel a flash drive with the Office’s file for Tariq al-Hourani—the man that killed Allon’s son, Dani, many years ago. Gabriel had a hunch and wanted to review the portion of Tariq’s file from his time spent in Libya.
Quinn never returned to the home Gabriel, Keller, and Lavon were watching. Instead, a woman (later identified as Katerina) showed up, and the trio followed her as she boarded a flight and traveled to London.
In London, they tailed her car but temporarily lost view of her for just a moment. Once they found the car she was driving, it was parked on the side of a street. Gabriel received a text message, which read “The bricks are in the wall…,” an old line Quinn delivered before a previous bombing.
Frantically, Allon and Quinn tried to warn people in the surrounding area. Then, in a flash, the bomb went off.
The English Girl
Gabriel was taken to a secret location to heal and recover from his injuries. While there, he came up with a plan. First, he went to see Madeline Hart, the Russian sleeper agent who was the focus of Silva’s 2013 novel, The English Girl.
In The English Girl, it was revealed that Madeline had been planted in England as a child, and was part of an elaborate Russian mission to pressure Prime Minister Lancaster into signing over the very lucrative North Sea drilling rights to an energy company called Volgatek Oil & Gas, which was actually owned by the Kremlin.
For her part, Madeline had an affair with Prime Minister Jonathan Lancaster. Later, she helped Gabriel and his team, and in return, they helped her slip out of Russia. In the end, Lancaster was humiliated both privately and politically, and canceled the North Sea deal, which froze Russian money that was held in British banks. The Russian president personally lost several billion dollars in the process.
While visiting with Madeline, who was staying at Gabriel’s cottage in Gunwalloe Cove, Cornwall, Allon showed her a photo of the woman who had been driving the car. Madeline recognized her from their time together in a KGB orphanage when they were just small girls, and identified her as Katerina.
Gabriel was now positive that the bombings were all part of a revenge plot from Russia–payback for the entire ordeal involving Madeline.
Leaving Madeline, Gabriel goes to see a woman named Samantha Cooke. Samantha, a reporter for the Telegraph, was last seen in The English Girl. Once again, Gabriel uses her to facilitate a story, this time about his death–due to injuries he sustained in the bombing.
Faking his death was part of Gabriel’s plan to gain the upper hand against the Russians and Eamon Quinn–and he went to great lengths to create an elaborate story that would fool the world into believing that he was no longer walking among the living.
Russia Finds Out
Alexi Rozanov informed the Russian president that Gabriel Allon had died, citing the fact that an eyewitness account stated that Ari Shamron had stood on the tarmac, at attention, while a coffin was loaded onto a plane headed back to Israel.
In response to the news, the Russian president told Alexi to inform Eamon Quinn that their deal had just been changed. Rather than receive half of his money now, as they had previously agreed to, he would pay Quinn all of the money after he completed the second and final phase of the plan.
Later, at a hotel in Vienna, Gabriel and Keller begin surveillance on a man named Reza Nazari. Reza, a veteran VEVAK officer posing as an Iranian diplomat and primary liaison to the SVR, was the man who originally tipped off Uzi Navot that Quinn had a role in the bombings.
Yaakov Rossman, Reza’s Israeli handler, made contact with Nazari and scheduled a meeting. To Reza’s surprise, he was taken to a villa where he was confronted by Gabriel, whom he thought to be dead. There, Allon reveals that the Office has Reza’s family and, should he ever want to see them again, he will need to help them. Reluctantly, Reza agrees.
Tell Me What I Want to Know
Reza gives up Alexi Rozanov, one of Moscow Center’s most powerful players. He confessed that he’d met with Alexi months earlier to discuss the dead body of Pavel Zhirov (a Russian agent who was killed by Gabriel and his team in The English Girl), and how upset the president was over the loss of the drilling rights in the North Sea. They concluded that it was all Gabriel Allon’s fault, and thus conspired to have him killed.
At the time, Reza revealed, Quinn was living in Venezuela under a dying Hugo Chavez and needed a new home. Quinn and Reza met in Caracas, where Quinn agreed to kill Gabriel and Keller for $10 million.
Alexi Rozanov then paid Reza $2 million to tip off Israel about Quinn, which was a tactic to draw Gabriel and Keller into the open. That plan had worked when Uzi Navot inadvertently played right into their hand by traveling to London to meet with Graham Seymour.
Eventually, thanks to Yuri Volkov, the Russians learned that Gabriel was still alive. Quinn, meanwhile, was holding Katerina hostage until he got his money. Through an email exchange, which they sent from an internet café in Fleetwood, Quinn also found out that Gabriel was still alive.
Angered, Quinn demands to press forward with the second phase of the plan and confirms the address.
Kidnapping a Russian
With Office agents following closely behind him Reza met with Alexi, which ended with him being captured at Gabriel’s command.
Gabriel asks Lavon whether he thinks Tariq and Quinn could have known each other. The two both decided that it was indeed probable, leading Gabriel to wonder if it was Quinn who helped create the bomb that killed his son, Dani.
At an Office safe house in Hamburg, Gabriel interrogated Alexi.
After Allon shot him in his left foot, Rozanov finally started talking. He revealed that it was Quinn’s idea to send the text message to Gabriel just before the bomb went off because he wanted him to know who was responsible.
When pressed about why Quinn wanted Gabriel to know he was responsible, Alexi said it was personal and had to do with a man named Tariq, and that Quinn wanted to “pay an old debt.”
Realizing that his suspicion had now been confirmed and that Quinn did, in fact, have a role in the death of his son years ago (events seen in The Kill Artist), Gabriel continued to use aggressive techniques to extract information from Rozanov.
In the end, Gabriel learned that Quinn was in London for the second phase of the plan, where he would attempt to assassinate Jonathan Lancaster during a visit to Guy’s Hospital the following day.
Alexi Rozanov also gave up the name of Arthur Grimes, who served in the Personnel and Security department of MI6. But before Grimes could be brought in and questioned, he committed suicide by jumping off a balcony.
Gabriel and Keller headed to Guy’s Hospital but found no sign of Quinn. Instead, they were informed about a shooting that took place at Gabriel’s cottage in Gunwalloe Cove, and Allon quickly realized that Madeline was the target.
Quinn had taken Madeline captive, rather than kill her, as a way to continue manipulating the movements of Gabriel and Keller. But his plan fell apart after Gabriel talked to Maggie Donahue (Quinn’s wife) and found out that she’d been threatened to keep quiet. That in itself didn’t surprise Gabriel or Keller; however, they were shocked to learn that it wasn’t Quinn who had threatened her, but Billy Conway. (Remember, he was the person who gave Gabriel and Keller the address for Maggie earlier on!)
Keller confronted and questioned Billy, who admitted that he picked up Quinn and Madeline, then dropped them off at the Fagan Farm—the very place Keller had been captured and tied up all those years ago. He informed Christopher that Madeline and the other girl, Katerina, were being kept alive in a shed on the land.
The Fagan Farm
Together, Gabriel and Keller made their way back to where it all started. The entire ordeal had become intimately personal for both of them, and each sought revenge for a lost loved one.
Gabriel and Keller stormed the farm, rescuing Madeline, who told them that Katerina had been helping her try to escape, saving her life in the process. Unfortunately, Quinn had gotten away again.
Time to Go Home, Christopher
With Madeline now safe, Gabriel took Keller to a small home on Victoria Road in South Kensington. The home belonged to Christopher’s parents, who had long believed their son to be dead.
In the car, Keller begins acting nervous for the first time. Gabriel advises him to just tell his parents the truth, in stages, so he doesn’t shock them too much at once. Keller tells Allon that he plans to live near them and that he will officially begin his career with MI6 the next day.
His first mission: Find Eamon Quinn.
Note: It’s suggested that Gabriel had notified Keller’s parents that their son was alive, and he would be coming home soon, though the reader is never told when that might have happened.
Keller exits the car, walks up the steps to the house, embraces his parents, and disappears inside.
Back to Israel
Back home with Chiara, Gabriel obtained her permission to paint over the clouds she had designed on the walls of the nursery. The next morning, he delicately decorated the walls in “Titanesque clouds.” He then added a small angel boy, which he borrowed from Veronese’s Virgin and Child in Glory with Saints, peering downward over the edge of the highest cloud.
Shaking, with tears running down his cheeks, Gabriel gave the angel the face of his son, Dani, as he looked on the day that he died.
During a conversation, Gabriel informs Shamron that he wants time with his children and Chiara, suggesting he’ll take at least three months off. Shamron tells Gabriel the prime minister wants him to go on a diplomatic mission to America on his behalf. Allon, though, is not interested.
Visiting Mount Herzl, Gabriel goes to see his psychologically damaged ex-wife, Leah. During their visit, between Leah bouncing back and forth between the past and present, Gabriel informed her that his twins will be named Irene, which is his mother’s name, and Raphael, after the angel of healing. Before leaving he promises to bring the babies, once they’re born, to see her just as soon as he can.
Returning back home to Chiara, Gabriel discovers that she is set and ready to go to the hospital. She had apparently been feeling unwell and called her doctor, who instructed her to come in so they could induce labor (or possibly perform a C-section, the book is not clear on this) that night. Together they leave for the hospital, and that’s the last we see of them in The English Spy.
One for Dani and One for Elizabeth
The book ends with Christopher Keller finally finding Eamon Quinn, who had been hiding out in Buenos Aires. Keller shot him twice in the head before Quinn even knew what happened—once for Dani Allon, and once for Elizabeth Conlin.
When it’s personal, it’s messy.
The book ends with several loose ends, including the birth of Gabriel and Chiara’s twins. We don’t yet know if they are healthy, or how long Gabriel plans to be off with them. Will he, in fact, spend the next three months with them? Or will he meet with the American President at the Prime Minister’s request?
Additionally, while there have been rumors that Gabriel is still alive, he’s not yet come forward and revealed that fact to the world. How that will impact his future taking over as Chief of the Office is yet to be seen, and will likely reveal itself in The Black Widow.
So, now that you’re all caught up, the only thing left to do is order your copy of The Black Widow!