Pos­ing as an oil ex­ec­u­tive and ‘killing at the don’s be­hest’

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Muriel Dob­bin Muriel Dob­bin is a for­mer White House and na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­porter for McClatchy news­pa­pers and the Bal­ti­more Sun.


By Daniel Silva

Harper, $28.99, 544 pages

The deadly dark­ness of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism per­vades Daniel Silva’s lat­est har­row­ing plot. Mr. Silva spe­cial­izes in real hor­ror as he as­sem­bles a caste of ter­ror­ists and the sort of thing they can do at their worst. He has a writ­ing style that takes no pris­on­ers and the ca­su­alty rate is very high. What makes his writ­ing grip­ping is his ca­pac­ity to re­mind read­ers that those who fight ter­ror­ism are just as fierce as those who per­pe­trate the atroc­i­ties.

Mr. Silva is clearly com­fort­able with atroc­i­ties on both sides of an ex­ceed­ingly grim game. Per­haps the best ex­am­ple of this is the in­tel­li­gence agent who quite lit­er­ally will stop at noth­ing and is trou­bled by few scru­ples about the dead he leaves in his wake. Such a man is Peter Mar­lowe — or Christo­pher Keller de­pend­ing on which name he chooses to use. Ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish gov­ern­ment records Keller has been dead for 25 years as a re­sult of re­ports of his work in a fa­mous in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tion when a home­less Welsh­man was used as a corpse to feed fake doc­u­ments to Nazi Ger­many about the Al­lied in­va­sion.

In a cast of col­or­ful and usu­ally wicked char­ac­ters, Keller is a star and his chief tal­ent is to emerge from ter­ri­fy­ing sit­u­a­tions with­out a scratch and to take his own kind of revenge. He re­acts to an ap­palling case of in­ef­fi­cient friendly fire by hid­ing his iden­tity be­neath the head­dress of an Arab and mak­ing his way across his dan­ger­ous world to “wash up on the rugged is­land of Cor­sica where he fell into the wait­ing arms of Don An­ton Or­sati, a crime fighter whose an­cient fam­ily of Cor­si­can ban­dits spe­cial­ized in mur­der for hire.”

That is how Keller, pos­ing as an olive oil ex­ec­u­tive, roams Western Europe for 25 years “killing at the don’s be­hest.” The don and Keller might seem to be a part­ner­ship made in heaven ex­cept their al­liance is closer to hell. Keller is ac­cepted by the Cor­si­cans as one of their own and adopts their ways. And he is re­luc­tant to take a new as­sign­ment that takes him into old per­ils, be­com­ing a Bri­tish agent once again to cope with a truly ter­ri­fy­ing se­ries of ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Lon­don and Paris, with stun­ning loss of life.

An in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist known as Sal­adin is held re­spon­si­ble for the wave of bloody at­tacks that is sweep­ing Europe and Keller joints a se­lect group as­signed to find and kill the killer. The group in­cludes Gabriel Al­lon, the chief of Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence who is al­most as ruth­less as Keller yet per­mits him­self a fleet­ing tol­er­ance for hu­man­ity that lets him have a do­mes­tic life of his own but does not stop him from tor­tur­ing to death a mem­ber of the ter­ror­ist cadre.

The au­thor holds the at­ten­tion of the reader for more than 500 blood-stained pages in which al­most no­body is lik­able or even hu­man. There are fe­male char­ac­ters like Olivia and Natalie, and they are of course beau­ti­ful and just as ruth­less as their male coun­ter­parts although dis­posed to be­com­ing at­tached to men who use women as they use men.

The back­ground of the erst­while model Olivia is es­pe­cially sor­did, and even Natalie is a woman no one should turn their back on. Yet they fit into what is un­doubt­edly a ter­ri­ble world and it is their ca­pac­ity for tough­ness that al­lows them to sur­vive and even to be­tray if it suits their pur­pose.

No­body said Mr. Silva writes com­fort­able thrillers, and oc­ca­sion­ally the sav­agery is re­mark­ably cold-blooded. How­ever, he dis­poses of his clan of vi­cious vil­lains in a hail of bul­lets which is prob­a­bly what they ex­pect if not the way they might al­ways like it. The au­thor has done his re­search and of­fers a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the brief live and times of the kind of peo­ple who prob­a­bly don’t ex­pect to live too long. And for that per­haps the reader should be grate­ful.

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