I am a huge fan of Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, and to have a new book landing during these locked-down-pandemic-y days was a great treat. What was especially interesting were Mr. Silva references to the pandemic in the book, making this the first novel I have read which is bang up-to-date with regard to Coronavirus.

I enjoyed the book, I truly did, but…

…not as much as his previous ones, I have to say.

It sounds churlish to criticise such a great writer, but I felt that this book was, perhaps, a little rushed. The one thing I love about Mr. Silva’s writing is his description of life in Israel – the food, the heat, the sounds, the fear – but much of this novel takes place in Europe.

Which is fine.

But it is not Israel.

Familiar characters, especially Gabriel’s loyal Israeli colleagues, are but sketchily covered. It is for the by now well-loved familiarity of Jerusalem, and Gabriel’s young family, and his office colleagues and his art, that I so enjoy Mr. Silva’s books. It is like catching up with old friends. But much of that comfortable familiarity is missing from “The Cellist.”

To be fair, we do meet up with old and familiar faces, though the focus is definitely on characters from earlier European adventures, rather than Gabriel’s Israeli world. The plot is topical, involving money laundering and murky Russian politics, though trying to make money laundering thrilling is an uphill task.

And Covid.

And a fair amount of quite obviously partisan US politics from Gabriel, who at times seems more American than Israeli.

The author’s acknowledgements at the end of the book speak volumes, no pun intended. Mr. Silva’s American politics are firmly on display, which is fair enough – it’s his country and his choice to wrote as he pleases – but it all rather smacks of over-manipulating an Israeli character.

Here is the author, in his own words:

“Needless to say, I did not set out, in the late summer of 2020, to write a novel that featured an insurrection inspired by an American president and an inauguration conducted under the threat of an armed assault by US citizens. But in the days following the Capitol siege, I resolved to include the near death of American democracy in my story of Russia’s relentless war on the West. I jettisoned my existing ending and rewrote much of my manuscript in a span of six weeks. Such an undertaking would not have been possible without the editorial and emotional support of my wife, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who was reporting on the very events about which I was writing. She reviewed my final substantive changes while sitting on the set of the network’s Washington studios waiting to go on the air.”

Let me reiterate that I am a huge fan of Mr. Silva, but the curmudgeonly side of me can’t help but wonder if this book would’ve been better had he not jettisoned his original ending, and not dragged in the Capitol siege. It all seems bit too breathless and manipulated.

I repeat – a good read. But not the best in this otherwise enthralling series.

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