Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Unlikely Spy

Daniel Silva is an immensely talented writer. Since he wrote his debut thriller, The Unlikely Spy, he's gone on to write several other thrillers, most notably those featuring the Israeli special agent, Gabriel Allon.

But The Unlikely Spy is a first-rate World War II thriller. Hard to put down, with numerous twists and turns, and incredibly fast paced, it's one of those rare treats you can't wait to finish to see what happens, but hate for it to end because it's that good.

The "unlikely" hero of this novel is Alfred Vicary, a history professor recruited by old friend Winston Churchill to work on the Double Cross System and "control" all the German agents who've been turned against the Fatherland.

Unfortunately, Germany has a sleeper agent in London, Catherine Blake, a ruthless spy just waiting for the opportune moment to strike. She soon gets her chance when her handlers, the Abwehr, want information on the specific location of the Allies' attack on France.

In the classic race against time, Vicary has to uncover who this woman is, how she operates, who her contact is in England, and how he can stop her.

Even though we all know the outcome of the Normandy Invasion and that the secrets surrounding it were a success, you can't help but feel panicky that Catherine Blake will somehow get that information to Hitler and his cronies and thus alter the outcome of the war. Yes, Silva is that good at tension, pacing, and characterization.

Vicary's character is unusual for heroes. He's not the suave, debonair, young man who gets the ladies and the bad guys at the end. Instead, he's a deeply reflective, middle-aged gentleman more used to the hallowed halls of the university than the spy chasing game. But the ravages of war, the late nights, the lack of sleep, the stress, the tough decisions, and the moral conundrums all create a man at odds with his present world, yet so deeply entrenched in this world that he has nearly lost site of the man he once was.

An excellent, well-written, and thoroughly enjoyable thriller.