The New Girl: A Novel (Gabriel Allon Book 19)
The title The New Girl is deep cover for action and deceit hidden in plain sight on the pages of the latest Gabriel Allon novel. As expected in a story of international intrigue, fast cars, boats, planes, and high body counts abound. Not expected are the surprise emotional trap doors in scenes which drop the reader into the same pits of perfect despair suffered by the characters. Also unexpected to the point of improbable is the general storyline.
The 12-year-old daughter of Khalid bin Mohammed, crown prince of Saudi Arabia and rich guy beyond belief, is kidnapped after school one day. The crime occurs despite six bodyguards and her presence in an armored limousine. She is probably the strongest, sharpest character in the book. If only she had been armed herself, the kidnappers clearly would have failed in their plot. But then, there would be no more story to tell.
To whom does Khalid (as he is known to his friends) turn to recover his stolen daughter? Why his choice is none other than the chief of Israeli intelligence, Mr. Allon. And who does Mr. Allon enlist as his chief assistant spy/sleuth/gunslinger? Why his choice is none other than an art curator at MOMA in New York, Sarah Bancroft.
To be fair, Ms. Bancroft is a former CIA agent and veteran of other Silva novels. But she has been in the art world, very soft sidelines, for more than a few years. She currently holds neither a weapons license nor a license to kill from any authority. Nonetheless, she is immediately provided a gun and access to the secrets of more than one nation.
Her main role in this novel is to be cloying and annoying. She moons over her previously unsuccessful play for Mr. Allon. She makes snide remarks about (and directly to) her more recent lost love, Israeli agent Mikhail Abramov. Making up for those earlier romantic defeats, she makes a determined and ultimately successful attempt to hook up with a British spy.
All the while, she is the perpetual lady in distress. She is herself kidnapped. She is bound. She is beaten. She screams in fear at the first sign of danger. For some reason, her bodice is never ripped. Her persona is so distracting it seriously diminishes the impact of an otherwise decent spy story.
The New Girl is just a decent spy story and no more. It is a dumping ground of random thoughts. The title itself seems randomly selected. By page 11, Khalid’s daughter is no longer the mysterious new girl at the private Swiss academy. By then, she is well on her way to becoming a prisoner.
Unnamed, but still Trump himself, the American president tweets constantly and bounds unchecked about the international community, causing havoc. Putin is called the Tsar, but we know who he really is because he not very subtly interferes in US presidential and Brexit elections. He also poisons his enemies with nuclear toxins when they presume themselves safe in England.
Khalid dismembers or loots from countrymen who disagree with him. Yet he is predominantly written into the script as a most loving father and social reformer. The painting in truth known as Salvator Mundi appears front and center in the novel. This painting may or may not be a true da Vinci. It sold for almost half a billion dollars in 2015 to a mystery purchaser. Silva lets us in on the secret that the purchaser was actually Khalid. Strong hints running on a continuous loop from Ms. Bancroft and Mr. Allon subtly pronounce it partially da Vinci but mostly fake. Khalid is unconcerned. The reader should equally be unconcerned.
The New Girl is the 19th novel in which Mr. Allon stars. He and Silva make a concerted effort to convince the reader that multiple deaths are excused by lovers of country, fine art, fine wine, classical music, and family.
Silva also makes it clear that the spy business is tough and best left to the menfolk. They can succeed at it. Women are routinely defeated in the spy world by the stronger, smarter men. Women can best find success only on the periphery of espionage. A woman can raise the children, organize romantic candlelit dinners, and listen in rapture as her hero husband recounts his amazing exploits that day to save the world from evil. Or, alternatively, a woman can abandon her career and country to tie the knot with a successful foreign spy, thus achieving vicarious victory. These overt and misguided messages further reduce the tale to just a decent spy story and little more. Hopefully, in Allon novel number 20, Silva can embrace the same epiphany of enlightenment enjoyed by Khalid by book’s end.