Monday, December 15, 2008

Daniel Silva: Moscow Rules

How refreshing! After just two more serious books, it felt good to read another fun, hard-to-put-down story. If you don’t know Gabriel Allon, then you have never read Daniel Silva. Allon is an art restorer, restoring great masters paintings in various settings around Europe. He’s the best, and he loves it. But he never uses the name Allon when he is working on old paintings.

Gabriel Allon got his start with Israeli intelligence as part of the elite assassination team that tracked down and killed all the terrorists involved in the Munich Olympics massacre. His boss form those days, Ari Shamron, keeps calling him back, book after book, to deal with some crisis requiring his special skills.

In Moscow Rules, an independent Russian journalist has information he wants to pass to the West. But he will talk to no one but Gabriel Allon (who made the mistake of getting his name in the paper in a previous book). I don’t think I’m tipping the story too much to say that the journalist is killed while Allon is setting up the meet. Obviously, he did not get his message through, but Shamron and Allon are both convinced it was important.

It turns out that independent journalist in Russia is a very hazardous profession. Three are attacked in this book alone. It is especially dangerous to cross Ivan Kharkov, an unscrupulous arms dealer, bent on making as much money as possible from unused Soviet munitions. Generally he sells to Third World countries – either the government or the rebels – but now he may have an especially dangerous shipment destined for al-Qaeda.

Allon goes to Russia to learn what the journalist failed to tell him. While there, he operates under “Moscow Rules”, chief of which is, “Never look back. You are never completely alone.” Essentially the rules say that everyplace you are is bugged, everyone you meet is a counter-spy agent, everywhere you go you are being followed. So, challenging as it is, run your operation accordingly.

As the plot unfolds, Allon works with an expanding team, including Israeli, American, British, and French agencies. He gets much better cooperation than anyone in a Le Carré novel could ever hope for. But the situation remains complex and dangerous.

Gabriel Allon is a likeable character. I enjoy his reluctance to be drawn back into the fray balanced against his obvious expertise when he is. And I also like the fact that he is not an infallible super-hero. He does get into trouble. He does need help.

Gabriel Allon develops as a character across his many novels. But Silva does a good job keeping the books stand-alone. In Moscow Rules, we see occasional references back to successful operations from previous books. The references add a touch of depth, but are in no way critical to the current story. But mentioning many of them could tend to reveal some outcome from a previous book.

I loved the pure adrenaline rush of accompanying Gabriel Allon through the pages of Moscow Rules.

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