THE BLACK WIDOW by Daniel Silva

(ISIS overruns Raqqa, Syria)

While discussing his new book THE BLACK WIDOW in the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH author Daniel Silva pointed out that the Paris bombing described in his sixteenth installment of his Gabriel Allon series was a complete fabrication.  In light of actual events that seem to coincide with the book’s publication, Silva seems clairvoyant, a trait that allows him to create plausible scenarios when compared to real events.  In part, this characteristic is responsible for the popularity of his work, along with the development of the Gabriel Allon character over the years.  In THE BLACK WIDOW, Allon is about to become the head of the “Office,” the nickname for Israeli intelligence when a bomb explodes in the Marais section of Paris, known for its Jewish population.  The attack was centered on a conference organized by Hanna Weinberg, the head of the Isaac Weinberg Center for the study of Anti-Semitism in France. The jihadi attack is successful and we learn about a man who goes by the nomenclature of Saladin.

What follows is one of Silva’s best books as the author presents an accurate reality that hopefully will never visit America.  Through Silva’s characters the reader is exposed to an accurate history of the Islamic State or ISIS and the background presented affords the reader the expertise that Silva has tapped in preparing his novel.  Many names will be familiar to Silva’s audience as they were developed in previous Allon books.  However, a new person emerges as one of the most important that Silva has ever created.  Her name is Natalie Mizrahi, a physician who immigrated to Israel because of the treatment of Jews in France, a subject that Silva treats as he argues that Islamic terror is a serious problem for Jews in France, and that the French government has been very laissez faire in dealing with it.  Dr. Mizrahi is recruited by Allon and trained to penetrate ISIS and gather intelligence concerning Saladin’s plans.  Saladin is a former officer and intelligence operator in the Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  Once the United States invaded Iraq and defeated Saddam’s forces Washington pursued the mistaken policy of “debathization.”  Because of this error hundreds of Saddam’s Sunni officer core had nowhere to turn.  Saladin, like many others joined al-Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi which eventually morphed into ISIS.

Sixth and I - July 2013

(author, Daniel Silva)

Throughout the novel Silva makes many astute judgements that currently affect the war on terror.  For example, the Brussels’ neighborhood of Molenbeek is presented as an ISIS oasis in the middle of the Belgian capitol.  Silva critiques President Obama’s Middle East policy (without mentioning his name) and statements concerning ISIS that he totally disagreed with.  The state of French-Israeli relations, the bureaucratic battles within the Israeli intelligence community are delved into, as is the sour relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv.  It is obvious that Silva has done a great deal of research in preparing his novel.  As I was reading the dialogue I had the feeling that I was reading from the works of Scott Shane, Michael Weiss, and Joby Warrick who have written extensively on ISIS and the war on terror, and lo and behold when I read Silva’s acknowledgements he cited these excellent journalist/historians.

What is fascinating about Silva’s approach is how realistic and believable his scenarios and characters are.  His description of turning Dr. Mizrahi into the Israeli agent Leila Hawadi is eye opening.  Further, the Mizrahi/Hawadi character’s indoctrination by ISIS is very disturbing as she witnesses the caliphate up close and what their raison detre is, as well as the actions they are planning.  Silva takes the reader on a thrilling voyage that I fear someday might come to pass.  If you are a fan of Silva’s previous efforts, you should find THE BLACK WIDOW a very satisfying read.

(ISIS overruns Raqqa, Syria)

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