MANCHESTER >> Art restoration and assassination would not, at first blush, seem professions that go hand-in-hand. One destroys, the other creates, or recreates. Bringing back life to damaged or degraded art would seem an unlikely prelude to the world of spycraft and taking down the bad guys.
But with Gabriel Allon, the accidental lead character in novelist Daniel Silva's long running series of espionage fiction, the master Israeli spy/assassin whose cover job, and maybe relief from the house of mirrors maze of espionage is art restoration, these two become a union of opposites.
"The more I studied the craft of restoration the more it seemed to me it had things in common with the craft of assassination," Silva said in a recent phone interview. "I borrowed from each discipline and wove it all together and here you have Gabriel Allon."
Silva has recently just this week released his 19th novel, "The Black Widow," and the 16th one which places Allon into the crosscurrents of history and densely woven espionage plots.
Silva will be coming to Manchester for another installment of the "Off the Shelf" series of author discussions hosted by the Northshire Bookstore which feature a live interview with Joe Donahue, an on-air personality with WAMC Northeast Public Radio. The interview with Silva, which will be taped for later broadcast, will be held at the Maple Street School on Thursday, July 21, starting at 7 p.m.
In an interview for one of his earlier books, Silva noted that the two contrasting sides of the Allon character allowed him to "plumb the two distinct sides of his character that are constantly at war within him." He's at once a healer and a destroyer, and the global historical currents of our time presented by the Arab/Israeli conflict, and the historical background of the holocaust of the World War II era, are the stage on which Allon performs.
That stage now includes the more recent and rapid rise of ISIS as a terror group not only intent on establishing, or to them, restoring, a caliphate state in the heart of the Middle East which ignores the boundary lines drawn by Western powers during and after World War I, but advancing their claims through acts of terror in the Western world's front yard. Another trend which Silva points out is the rise of anti-Semitism in Western Europe, especially in France. The book opens with a devastating bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Paris whose mission is to study anti-Semitism in France links these two trends intimately together.
A pronounced migration of French Jews to Israel is underway, Silva said in his phone interview, which is remarkable given that as refugees from the Middle East struggle to reach the relative safety of the West, French Jews are moving out and heading for Israel, something no other group of Europeans is doing, he adds.
Another intriguing theme to Allon's book is the rationale and reaction of young Islamic women who head for the Middle East to become the wives and girlfriends of young jihadist fighters with ISIS. What motivates these women to partner with a group of men who collectively can anticipate a relatively short lifespan, leaving behind young widows and children is mystifying on the surface, although what may also be a waning trend as ISIS is brought under more stress in its former strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
"There is something in the ideology, something that's going on online," Silva said of the willingness of some Islamic women to share in the sacrifices for what they see as a holy cause. "It's a reduction taking place that is hooking lots and lots of young women.'
In "The Black Widow" Allon, who is about to be named as the new chief of Israel's secret intelligence service, is summoned back into the field to track down the perpetrators of a deadly terrorist bombing in Paris pulled off by ISIS. Suspicion falls quickly on a known ISIS terrorist mastermind codenamed "Saladin," after the 12th century Islamic military leader who reclaimed Jerusalem from the Crusaders. But Saladin is protected by layers of security and encrypted software, and no one knows his real identity. Into this vortex Allon sends a young woman to isolate and identify Saladin. She will pose as someone eager to assist in the establishment of the Islamic caliphate ISIS hopes to create — as a "black widow" seeking vengeance for the death of a jihadist husband. The tale travels from Europe to the Middle East to Washington D.C where an unholy night of terror is being planned by "Saladin." It's a race against time as Allon and his "black widow" plant hope to thwart the plot.
Silva began his writing career as a journalist with UPI, and later became an executive producer at CNN, before turning to writing spy and espionage thrillers in the mid-1990s. It wasn't until his fourth book, "The Kill Artist," that Allon emerged as a leading protagonist, and initially he was intended as a second-tier character. A Palestinian terrorist was supposed to be the leading character, but as Silva wrote the story the Allon character came to life "and took over that book," he said.
Then, he didn't anticipate that this hybrid of assassin and art restorer would continue on across 15 more novels, but that's the way it has turned out,
Silva has emerged as one of the top and best-selling authors of the spy and espionage genre, and according to a recent story in the Washington Post, among his loyal readers is a certain presidential candidate whose husband is also a fan, Silva said.
He knows Bill Clinton has been a reader of his books, adding that he wasn't surprised to read in the Post that Secretary Hillary Clinton was also, speculating with a chuckle that she might borrow them on occasion from the former president's night stand.
For more information about Silva's "Off the Shelf" conversation with Joe Donahue, visit northshire.com.