Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #73: The English Girl by Daniel Silva

This is a well-plotted Silva thriller, in which the bad guys this time is the corrupt new Russia under a beast of a president who remains nameless but is clearly meant to be Putin. Oh, and the pathetic world of dirty British politics (and morals) is on full display here too, a target which I found I enjoyed rather more than Silva’s tedious black-hatting of the Arabs in most of his novels.

Beautiful young English girl Madeline Hart is kidnapped during a vacation in colorful Corsica at a moment when she is rising to the top of her political career. Despite intensive searches, not a clue is found and after months, her disappearance begins to fade from the media. And that’s when a ransom note arrives for the British Prime Minister, giving him 7 days to pay a ransom for her or else. Turns out Madeline has been in a clandestine love affair with the married PM, and retired Israeli spy and master assassin Gabriel Allon is called upon by an old friend and British spymaster to do his magic and find and get her back. Allon ends up in an unusual alliance with the assassin who spared his and his wife’s lives in a previous Silva novel, and the two back each other up in unraveling the story of who is behind the kidnapping. Of course, Allon’s Mossad team is fully deployed as well, always a welcome addition to the plot. And finally, Silva adds just a touch of mysticism to ratchet up the tension.

There’s a lot of psychological manipulation on all sides going on, which gives lots of added nuance to Silva’s always masterful political thrillers, and a couple of major plot twists which had me gasping in disbelief. For fear of giving away too much, I’ll just say that Allon appears more vulnerable in this novel than in others I’ve read, which makes him an even more appealing protagonist. Silva’s politics are getting more interesting as well, and with Allon “back in the saddle” by the end, I think we can all safely anticipate more good reading to come. Hi ho Silva! (sorry about that! Couldn’t resist!)

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #4: Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

McEwan wrote this slim novel as an indictment of immorality in high places, whether government, the media, or the arts. And McEwan is a brilliant enough author to have succeeded in his endeavor—despite a weak plot and a frankly silly ending—where others would have failed miserably. That said, I think Amsterdam is worth reading, and the people who give out the Booker Prize apparently thought so too.

Amsterdam focuses on the story of two men—well, four, actually—who meet at the London funeral of the once loveable and vivacious Molly Lane. Molly has succumbed to a long, debilitating and miserable illness. The four include her wealthy husband George Lane, British Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony, prominent composer Clive Linley and newspaper editor Vernon Halliday, and they have all been Molly’s lovers at one time or another. Linley and Halliday have been best friends for years, and share contempt for the weak husband, hatred for the radical right-wing Foreign Secretary … and fear of dying a miserable death like Molly’s. The friends agree to assist each other to an early death should such a disease threaten either of them.

Linley is madly working against deadline to finish a commissioned symphony for the approaching Millennium, and is increasingly steeped in his own self-worship, to the point of turning his back on a woman about to be raped in order to hold onto a musical passage that has just occurred to him. Halliday is struggling to keep his alternative newspaper afloat and is thrilled when Molly’s widower unexpectedly offers him photos to publish that had been taken by Molly of the Foreign Secretary in drag. Halliday sees this as a golden opportunity to both destroy the despised Secretary’s career and give his newspaper a huge boost, but Linley denounces Halliday’s opportunism as a betrayal of Molly’s trust. A wedge is driven between the two, and longstanding grudges begin to surface and corrupt their relationship. And when circumstances turn against them both, the resulting crisis escalates into a shocking and unfortunately ridiculous climax.

McEwan brilliantly indulges his sardonic wit in this novel, which exposes the sins of political expediency and self-aggrandizement among society’s leaders. Always a worthy cause, in my opinion. And he has a clever twist at the end which went some distance to relieving my irritation at the absurdity of the book’s climax. But, along with many other reviewers, I am left to wonder why McEwan didn’t take more time to develop this book as he might have, which would have made it that much more powerful.