The Cellist by Daniel Silva-Book
The Cellist by Daniel Silva begins with a painting, as Gabriel Allon spy stories often do. It begins at Isherwood Galleries with Sarah Bancroft, the beautiful agent Gabriel recruited in The New Girl. Sarah likes to believe Gabriel managed to ruin her for any other life. Right now, Sarah is running the gallery. She decides to sell a somewhat damaged painting called The Lute Player, attributed all these years to the wrong artist. She sees it as a challenge to do this during the COVID-19 pandemic and the gallery could certainly use a spectacular sale. Sarah thinks Viktor Orlov might buy the painting if Gabriel will restore it. Viktor is a Russian oligarch, out of favor with the leader of Russia, hiding in plain sight in England. However, when Sarah gets to Viktor’s house the door is unlocked, but no one answers the bell. She discovers Viktor dead in front of a packet of papers he has just opened. Fortunately, she knows better than to touch anything. The papers are covered with a fine layer of powdered Novichok, a nerve agent.
And there begins a tale of Russia, one of Gabriel’s favorite places to try to fight for human rights and get rid of the bad guys. This is a story of the moment, and I liked it far more than Silva’s other modern story of terrorism, The Black Widow. Perhaps I was simply used to time-mellowed alleys in old world Vienna, scuffles with corrupt Swiss bankers who paid Nazis big bucks for stolen Jewish possessions, his vendetta with the Catholic priests who sided with Nazis, and his special relationship with the Vatican. Something as modern as dealing with ISIS in modern-day France seemed outside Silva’s usual oeuvre.
But Isabel Brenner, the talented cellist who can hold entire symphonies in her memory, is a fine addition to the lovely women Gabriel recruits. He did not recruit her at random. She works for the Russian Laundromat, a secret arm of RhineBank (fictional substitute for DeutscheBank). She is the one who has been passing on RhineBank data sheets to a female Russian journalist Gabriel knows well. Isabel identified herself as Mr. Nobody. Gabriel must decide if Isabel is the one who dusted the documents handed to Viktor with Novichok, or if her spying had been discovered and she was now being used.
We’re talking Russia here–a Russia run by thugs, killers, and thieves. A Russia still governed by a leader trained by the KGB and his cagey bag man Arkady Akimov. Arkady may be so blinded by wealth that he is willing to steal from a man who is more ruthless than he is, but he also loves classical music and indulges in philanthropy with his stolen money. Gabriel comes up with a plot which he hopes will topple RhineBank and Arkady, and perhaps even Arkady’s old neighborhood pal, the president of Russia.
Gabriel’s wife, Chiara, has wrested from him a promise that he will serve only one term as the head of the Israeli secret service after which they, and the twins, will retire to Vienna to be near Chiara’s aging father. Gabriel is using his old team, perhaps in an audition to see who will run ‘the office’ next. The women Gabriel recruits to help in his operations rarely come away unscathed, and neither does Gabriel. Gabriel ends his story in Washington, DC on the worst possible date, January 6th where he runs into an extremist Qanon believer with a gun. She shoots him through and through. Chiara has one more reason to extort a retirement from a husband who keeps saying that he wants to retire and then getting sucked in one more time. If he lives, will he finally retire. Not if Daniel has a few more books to write which we hope he does. Readers will demand more Gabriel Allon in some form. Although Silva’s commentary on January 6 th and Qanon will not please everyone, this reader felt he expressed himself very well on those subjects.
Gabriel serves as an investigator to allow Silva to expose injustices to his readers. Gabriel also exacts the kinds of vengeance we would all like to reap sometimes. The venality people get up to in this world often makes us despair. Do human beings have any redeeming qualities.? Gabriel not only gets revenge, but he has many redeeming qualities that remind us that life is both yin and yang, cowboys and outlaws, Nazis and resistance fighters. Some complain that this makes Gabriel unbelievable as a character, but not if we see him as a teacher, a symbol and ‘the tip of the spear’.