THE ENGLISH SPY by Daniel Silva

Yes, indeed, I am still very immersed in the world of the master Israeli spy and assassin Gabriel Allon, and, as ever, am in awe of the amazingly topical plots and their totally unpredictable twists and turns, in the hands of the master, Daniel Silva.

Gabriel Allon and his world have been my non-stop summer reading and to my horror, I have only one book in the series left to read, and am already going into depression at the thought.  I started out in the early days of our brutal Delhi summer with Book 1, and have read them all, in order, finishing the excellent “The English Spy” just now, on a hot September afternoon here in Delhi.

I said just now that the plots are topical.  They are, of course. That goes without saying.  But Mr. Silva seems to be prescient, too, and it is this uncanny ability to have his pulse not only on the contemporary world scene but also almost see into the future, that makes his books so riveting.

“The English Spy” sees Gabriel Allon at work in Ireland, as he tries to defeat his old nemesis from earlier novels…but I really can’t tell you much more without being a complete spoil sport, so I won’t.

One of the leitmotifs that run through this totally absorbing and clever series is that of art.  Jewish Gabriel is an art restorer of world renown, one of the world’s top restorers of Christian art, often undertaking commissions directly for the Vatican and for the Catholic churches of his beloved Venice.  This unlikely pairing of violence and art, of Judaism and Catholicism, of killing and healing, is just one of the clever devices Mr. Silva uses to weave stories that draw you into them on so many different levels.

Gabriel is a hero like no other, one of fiction’s most decent, honourable men. He is modest, an Israeli who is not in the least bit religious.  A man who loves Europe and the world of churches and art and history.  A man who adores his drop-dead gorgeous wife, and who cherishes his first wife…oh dear, if anyone is reading this and doesn’t know the earlier books, I do hope I’m not spoiling things for you…

Gabriel is also, yet another contradiction in his psyche, a killer who has great compassion, as illustrated in his reaction when he sees a victim of a bomb attack:



Nearly all of the major characters who form Gabriel’s world make an appearance in the novel, including the wonderful Ari Shamron, who assumes almost Biblical stature in this description:


Sad to say, Israel and Israelis are often not the world’s favourite people, and so it is refreshing to be treated to the total decency and honesty and probity of Gabriel and his team.  Speaking personally, here in India, we usually meet the aggressive young Israelis who flock to places like Ladakh and Himachal, and are, sadly, very often rude and unfriendly.  Huge generalisation, I know, I know, but there were a couple of bruising encounters with hard-eyed unsmiling Israelis in Leh last time I was there.  Sad.

So, hopefully without sounding too naive, to immerse oneself in the world of Gabriel Allon, is to restore one’s faith in a country and its people.  Everyone in Gabriel’s ambit is passionate about Israel, but without being overtly religious.  The love for their country shines through, as does their commitment to making sure the world does not forget the horrors of the Holocaust.  The sights and sounds and light of Israel, the food and the wine and the sunsets, the dangers and the fear and the constant threats are just one of the many joys of these books.  And, as I said, they restore one’s view of the country and its people.

The Himalayan Concerto by John Masters

You shouldn’t have to know a place and/or physically be in a place to enjoy a book, but there really is nothing like sitting in the Himalayas, relishing a book about the Himalayas.

John Masters’ “The Himalayan Concerto” was written in 1975, published in 1976, and purports to take place in 1979, and yet nearly 40 years on is still pertinent and quite alarmingly up to date.


Reading this book in Leh, the atmospheric little capital of Ladakh, while acclimatising for a climbing expedition to Chamser Kangri…no, wait, sorry…our climbing permit was refused because of a Chinese incursion over the border into Ladakh…as I was saying, this book about the balance of power in the Indian Himalayas in the 1970s remains as pertinent today as when Mr. Masters wrote it.

Quite alarmingly pertinent, in fact.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel about Rodney Bateman, a British composer from a family that has long loved and served in India, but is currently unhappily married to an Indian.  Rodney is trying to write his Himalayan Concerto, about the music that binds the mountains and the adjoining countries, and as he travels the length and breadth of the mountains, he is also trying to sort out his own personal life.  Plus investigating some strange happenings on the Tibetan border for the Indian government.  His cover – travelling to research music –  affords him a degree of freedom to wander and chat, and he willingly undertakes to observe whatever is going on and report back to the Indian authorities.

Call it nostalgia, but I love the idea of a foreigner, but one who is known to love India, being co-opted to  – well –  spy for India.  This is a world of climbing, and fishing, and camping, and Kashmiri houseboats, and little private planes dropping off supplies in the highest most unreachable parts of the Himalayas.

That world has long since gone, but the charm of this story remains bang up-to-date, with its twists and turns and politics and downright “old fashioned” adventure.  Mr. Masters writes about Chinese incursions into India, and the Maoist threat in Bengal, and Pakistani sabre rattling…yes, 40 years down the line, open the Indian papers and what do you get?

A good old nostalgic read for a way of life that has gone, and yet…


The Child of Misfortune by SOUMITRA SINGH

From time to time I am sent books for review, and so many times I have to choose my words oh so carefully, when writing my review. No-one want to be intentionally cruel or harsh, but some of the current fiction coming out of India is truly way below the mark.

And then you have a novel like “The Child of Misfortune”.

What a pleasure. What a treat. What a great read.

Soumitra Singh has written a genuine page-turner, a gripping novel about choice, about friendship and about end-games. This book takes us from Leh to Srinagar to Mumbai to London, as this sweeping adventure unfurls over many years.

I loved the book from the start, and not just because it involved Ladakh, one of my most favourite places on earth.

There are two main, rivaling protagonists in this novel – Amar and Jonah, who meet as teenage boys at a smart school in Mumbai, and theirs is a strange relationship from the start : a desperate rivalry between 2 intelligent boys to be the brightest, the fastest, the smartest. Amar is reasonably chatty and communicative, and therefore easy for we the reader to understand and empathise with. Jonah, the taciturn, white-haired, pale-skinned boy from Pondicherry is altogether different. Intense, hardly speaking enough even to be described as mono-syllabic, he is a distant almost menacing figure from his teenage years. There is something disturbing about this boy.

I cannot (and would not) reveal the plot. It is too much of an exciting read to divulge, but suffice it to say that it encompasses a global quest, in the good old-fashioned Good vs Evil scenario (OK, I’ll tell you a bit – drugs and terrorism figure largely, as does the amazing technology with which we live today).

When the plot shifts to London I still enjoyed the story, but just a fraction less than the Indian sections, which I found super well-written. But that is hardly a valid point. Am just saying.

The book is well-written and fast-paced, though I think Mr. Singh’s editors have failed him from time to time. Again, nothing major, just a few grammatical errors that I doubt a writer of this calibre would have made.

Published in 2104 by Times Group Books, the paperback sells for Rs 350.


Great read.

Personally recommended.

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