In Daniel Silva’s gripping spy novel The Defector, Gabriel Allon works undercover as a professional art restorer while hunting down Israel’s most dangerous enemy, the Russian oligarch Ivan Kharkov. Gabriel’s wife, Chiara, would prefer he retire from the business of assassination, but Gabriel prefers to live life on his own terms. He isn’t one to follow the rules. He’s the ultimate heroic “bad boy” doing whatever he wants whenever he wants, answering to no one. The disappearance of Grigori Bulganov, defector and dissident, sets up a story that takes Gabriel from a secluded villa in Italy to the streets of London and foreign intelligence headquarters in Israel.
Grigori was living in London, frequenting the theater and working on a book when he disappeared. He wanted to live in the open, mistakenly believing it would be the best protection. Surveillance cameras show him climbing into the back seat of a black sedan on his way to a chess match. British intelligence decides that he has re-defected, shifting the burden of finding him to Gabriel, the person who brought him to the West in the first place.
“You can be sure of one thing, Gabriel. The only person Ivan Karkhov wants dead more than Grigori is you. And who could blame him? First you stole his secrets, then you stole his wife and children,” Uzi Novot tells him. Silva immerses us in the danger Gabriel faces, the very personal reasons Ivan has for wanting to exact revenge on those who destroyed his business and his family. Grigori’s kidnapping is the bait Kharkov uses to lure Gabriel Allon out into the open and punish him for destroying his life.
While this is the ninth book in the Gabriel Allon series, it isn’t necessary to have read the previous books in order to understand the story. Silva includes enough background information for the reader to understand Gabriel’s identity and his relationship with Israel’s foreign intelligence bureau, known to insiders as “The Office.” Gabriel was a promising young painter when Ari Shamron recruited him to be an assassin. Now a seasoned professional, Gabriel does pretty much as he pleases, an annoying trait to his superiors but one that endears him to readers.
One gratifying element to this novel is its strong women characters. Elena leaves her notorious husband after discovering the true source of his wealth and power. Chiara isn’t just Gabriel’s wife; she’s the daughter of the city’s chief rabbi and an agent in her own right, working for the Office. She perhaps isn’t as neatly drawn as Gabriel, but the reader knows she is a woman who can take care of herself. Olga Sukhova is a street-smart Russian journalist, one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. Although she receives constant threats against her life for uncovering corruption at the highest levels of the Kremlin, Olga has developed finely tuned instincts that keep her alert to danger.
The Defector is an intelligent, fast-paced thriller sure to please those who love spy novels. Part James Bond, part General Hospital, this is a story sure to keep you holding your breath. Silva’s distinctive narrative structure, vivid descriptions of landscape and similarities to real world events make this book a compelling read.