Reader William C. Montgomery writes:
Although the Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva, now in its sixteenth volume, is outstanding, it had become like a television detective procedural: predictable and safe, only with different bad guys. The Black Widow, Silva’s latest, is refreshingly different.
The Black Widow is the nineteenth novel by Daniel Silva, a reformed journalist. The lead character in his last sixteen books is an Israeli secret service agent with a license to kill named Gabriel Allon. Like Ian Fleming’s British secret service officer, Silva’s hero is personally tortured by the ruthless work he performs in defense of his homeland.
The Black Widow refers to the wives left behind by radical Islamic extremists who sacrifice themselves for the sake of jihad. It involves terror plots planned, supported and manned by radicalized European Muslims hailing form ghettos in Belgium and France. The fictitious action Silva concocts of are eerily similar to real world events that occurred while the book was in production.
Silva was in the midst of writing this book when terrorists took the lives of 130 people in Paris. And this book was nearing completion when bombs rocked the Brussels airport and Maalbeek metro station, taking another 32 innocents. Due to the close similarities of plot elements to actual events, Silva considered rewriting this book out of respect for those who died and their survivors. Ultimately Silva stuck with the original story, careful to avoid anything that might be construed as exploitative.
Precious few thriller writers take care with their prose – most are about as interesting to read as the ingredients on a box of cereal. Silva is no Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Steinbeck, but his efforts elevate his books above those of many of his modern contemporaries.
Silva’s three-dimensional characters are always a step above the crowd. Nonetheless, in recent works Silva has utilized descriptions of recurrent secondary characters that could have been copied and pasted from prior books. This practice ended with The Black Widow, in which these characters are introduced in fresh new ways.
In Widow Silva introduces us to Natalie Mizrahi, a French-born doctor of Algerian-Jewish descent, whom Allon assigns a high-risk deep cover operation. Natalie is the true star of the book.
Silva consults with real life intelligence officers when researching his novels. These agents describe their work as long periods of tedium punctuated by moments of shear terror. While true to life, incorporating that reality into a novel doesn’t often make for gripping prose. At times in past works, Silva’s books have crept along. This too has been improved in Widow. The tempo here is allegretto through the early pages with a stringendo to allegro at the climax. In other words, this book is a real page turner. R.I.P. Robert Ludlum.
From a gun aficionado’s point of view, Silva has [finally] fully transitioned his characters from wielding Berettas to GLOCKs. A CZ also makes a cameo appearance. My only complaint is the repeated cringe-worthy references to “AR-15 assault rifles.”
The Black Widow is Daniel Silva’s best book to date. It’s well crafted in every regard and breaks out of the rut of his prior recent efforts. The timing of this book couldn’t be better given the current condition of world affairs. Read it.