Friday 23 December 2016

A Spy infiltrates ISIS in Daniel Silva’s The Black Widow

The following review was originally published in Critics at Large and is reproduced on this site because I have written extensively about its subject, terrorism and counter-terrorism in reviews and in the second volume of That Line of Darkness.

Author Daniel Silva. (Photo by Marco Grob, courtesy of HarperCollins)

The murder of civilians over the last couple of years in France and northern Europe to my knowledge has been portrayed in fiction at least twice, in Todd Babiak’s, Son of France, and most recently in Daniel Silva’s, The Black Widow (HarperCollins, 2016) – before the events in reality actually occurred as both authors indicate. Silva has written sixteen novels in his Gabriel Allon spy series about an Israeli master spy, and on the basis of his current offering – the first that I have read – he is skillfully adept at rendering a gripping page-turning thriller. There are sufficient backstories to inform new readers: Allon began his career as a spy and assassin when he tracked down the Palestinian terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics; he lost a son to a terrorist car-bomb, shattering his wife’s mental faculties leaving her languishing in a care home. At this point in his career, his fieldwork appears over. Because of his past record of derring-do exploits along with some mishaps, the fabricated story of Allon’s death has been circulated. He is actually living in Israel, virtually in hiding in large part to protect his new family, and he is on the cusp of becoming security chief for “the Office” known in real life as the Mossad. His cover is that of an internationally recognized art restorer and we initially meet him in The Black Widow working on a Caravaggio at the Israel Museum.

Just prior to taking on this new responsibility, a terrible atrocity occurs in Paris when a French conference centre, organized to study the growing anti-Semitic violence, is the victim of a terrorist truck bomb attack. Hannah Weinberg, the woman who heads the centre, along with everyone else at the conference, is killed. The terrorist is a woman seeking revenge for the death of her fiancé who was killed in Syria fighting for ISIS, hence the novel's title. Since Weinberg had a personal connection with Allon and because the victims were Jews, a top secret French intelligence team seeks the assistance of Allon in locating and eliminating a mastermind terrorist known only by several security services as “Saladin” who has orchestrated the attack.

Friday 9 December 2016

Class and Celebrity in Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress

The following review that originally appeared in Critics at Large is reproduced on this site because Toobin argues that Patricia Hearst, though initially a victim of a violent assault, did cross a line in which she would have incurred a more serious criminal sanction had she not been shielded by her privileged family.

Patricia Hearst (centre) leaving from San Francisco's Federal Building after received her seven-year sentence, on April 12, 1976.

The year 2016 may be remembered as the one in which celebrity became a vital touchstone in American culture. Most notably was the grotesque upset Presidential victory of Donald Trump in which a reality-TV concept, complete with the dramatic, over-the-top meanness and coarseness – as evidenced by the boisterous rallies and venomous post-truth tweets – helped propel him to the White House. On a lesser scale, this year witnessed both a spotty, award-winning television movie, The People v. O. J. Simpson, based on Jeffrey Toobin’s 1996 biography, Run of His Life , and the superior documentary, O. J.: Made in America, in which Simpson notoriously utters “I am not black, I’m O.J.,” a statement that underscored his celebrity status. Sadly, it is possible to draw another connection between a seismic political event and an infamous crime story. In her 2010 book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, journalist Rebecca Traister investigated the 2008 Presidential election and found bile examples of visceral misogyny directed toward Hillary Clinton that included affixed to t-shirts “I wish that Hillary had married O.J.” Thirdly, this year marked the publication of Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst (Doubleday) that directly links a series of crimes in the 1970s with celebrity and class.