In his latest book in the Gabriel Allon series, The English Girl, Daniel Silva blends a riveting narrative with historical content to create a suspenseful and intriguing thriller. In this book, Allon, an art restorer and Israeli operative, is doing a favor for the British, trying to solve the kidnapping of a rising star in the British government named Madeline Hart.
Elise Cooper: You begin the book with a quote, “He who lives an immoral life dies an immoral death.” Can you explain it?
Daniel Silva: It was a perfect quote to add that little bit of Corsican spice at the beginning of the book that was very relevant to the ultimate theme, just as I choose a painting for some kind of visual connection to the plot. By the way, for this book the painting chosen is about a woman in peril.
EC: Can you tell the readers how the Gabriel Allon character came about?
DS: Gabriel Allon was never supposed to be a continuing character. He was supposed to be in only one book and then to sail off into the sunset. It did not turn out that way. I was talked into writing a series; even then, I never set out to write one about an Israeli intelligence officer. Once I made the commitment to a series, I decided to write the characters and their point of views. Whatever happens in the series, Allon will always be at the center of the action. Allon and his colleagues are unapologetically Israeli and defenders of their country. I couldn’t write a character that was wishy washy on Israel’s right to exist.
EC: Do the quotes in The English Girl reflect your point of view?
DS: When Hannibal Lecter talks about liking to eat liver, no one asks the author, Thomas Harris, if he likes liver. Similarly, with Gabriel Allon, Ari Shamron, and Adrian Carter, they utter words that show who they are. I don’t agree with everything that comes out of my characters’ mouths. For example, in Portrait of A Spy, I have a jihadist who spouts off about Jihad and goes on an anti-American, anti-Israeli tirade. I don’t believe that, but that is what the character would say. A writer has to be a really good mimic.
EC: In many of your books Russia is the antagonist. You have Gabriel say in the book: “I’m going to prove to the civilized world once and for all that the current crowd sitting in the Kremlin isn’t much better than the one that came before them.” Do you personally agree with Gabriel?
DS: I agree completely with what Gabriel said in that situation. Russia is not our true buddy. I fully concur with Gabriel’s sentiments. There is no daylight between Gabriel and myself with this one.
EC: There is a lot of history in The English Girl, from portraying Gabriel’s mother as a Holocaust survivor, to Gabriel swearing revenge after watching Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Olympics, to Graham Seymour, the MI5 deputy director, inheriting his father’s passion for espionage but not his hatred of Israel, which stemmed from the King David Hotel bombing in Jerusalem in 1946. Can you explain why you included these historical facts?
DS: Gabriel Allon became what he is because of the attack on the Munich Olympics. He and his colleagues are true to life in that respect. That is their reality.
EC: Speaking of historical background, you once had Ari Shamron answer questions from a fictional “Pivot Questionnaire.” There was a wonderful quote from him: “Peace is my favorite word. I’ve never known a single day’s peace in my life. Not in Poland. Not here. I would like to know what peace feels like before I die.” Can you explain the quote?
DS: Well yes, that is who Shamron is. The reality of the life of Ari Shamron is that he grew up in Poland and had his entire family wiped out in the Holocaust. He fled to what was then Palestine and arrived in the midst of the Arab uprising, followed by the War of Independence that followed. Then he had to deal with war upon war upon war. You can also say that the quote is background music to some scenes in this current thriller.
EC: What do you want the reader to gain from The English Girl?
DS: I wanted to talk about Russia and its quest to be a global energy player. I wanted to talk about the human rights situation there. I was very much influenced and inspired by the Russian sleeper mole case that took place in the U.S. a couple of years ago. With that said, this book was great fun to write. I see it as a lighter work than I have written in some time. I think this book is the purest entertaining, summer page-turner thriller.
EC: I would agree and add that The English Girl is compelling, informative, and funny, with a riveting story that readers will be unable to put down.