Even in the 21st century, Renaissance-era political mastermind Machiavelli’s advice has its applications—something that modern-day Israeli spy Gabriel Allon has ignored at his peril. As Machiavelli said, “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”

When we last left Daniel Silva’s most enduring hero in Moscow Rules, the sometime art restorer and deep-cover operative had effected a harrowing escape from the clutches of Russian arms dealer Ivan Kharkov, a self-styled oligarch who amassed a fortune in the ruble’s rubble during the economic land-grab of post-Soviet capitalism. In the process, Allon not only threw a Molotov cocktail into Kharkov’s plot to funnel weapons to al-Qaeda, but he spirited off with a top-ranking Russian intelligence officer—and Kharkov’s wife. But he didn’t quite follow Machiavell’s advice.

In The Defector, the edge-of-your-seat sequel (and ninth in the Gabriel Allon series that began with 2000’s The Kill Artist), Kharkov is both shaken and stirred, and he’s not about to let Allon simply resume his quiet life in Umbria, restoring a 17th-century altarpiece for the Vatican.

The book’s opening gambit involves the disappearance of defector Colonel Grigori Bulganov from his London haunts, and indeed the novel unfolds like a match of speed chess against a global backdrop, with grandmasters Allon and Kharkov always thinking three or four moves ahead, making smaller sacrifices in pursuit of some elusive, decisive advantage. While Allon has the support of his Israeli “office,” he starts the match one pawn down, as the official British intelligence position is that Bulganov has re-defected, and they’ve washed their hands of him. For Allon, it’s not quite so easy to walk away, as Bulganov has saved his life, not once, but twice. And Kharkov’s counting on Allon’s sense of honor to lure the special op into a deadly checkmate.

With a dollop of Simon Templar, a dash of Jack Bauer, the urbanity of Graham Greene and the humanity of John LeCarré, Daniel Silva has hit on the perfect formula to keep espionage-friendly fans’ fingers glued to his books, turning pages in nearly breathless expectation.

Thane Tierney, an unworthy student of Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals, lives in Los Angeles.

 

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