The Cellist

by Daniel Silva
Harper, July 2021, $28.99

In Daniel Silva’s new Gabriel Allon thriller, the head of the Israeli intelligence office is counting down the months until his term ends. He has no intention of continuing in the job, but before he rides off into retirement, there’s plenty to accomplish.

That to-do list gets a bit longer when an old “friend,” exiled Russian oligarch Victor Orlov, is murdered. Orlov had long been a target of the criminals in charge of Russia and they finally crossed his name of their list. But the use of poison to kill Orlov draws Gabriel’s interest because Sarah Bancroft, another old friend of Gabriel’s, was exposed to the poison as well. Documents given to Orlov by a journalist are determined to be how the poison was delivered and the intelligence services from Israel, England, and America are now looking for the reporter.

A far bigger “game” is revealed when they locate the reporter. The documents were a series of material drops she received that implicated a childhood friend of the Russian president with running a group responsible for trying to undermine the Western world through the use of KGB tactics.

Determined to bring an end to the blood feud he’s had with the Russians for years, Allon seizes upon the opportunity to team up with Isabel Brenner, the original source of the documents (and a former cellist, thus the title). She works for RhineBank, the world’s dirtiest bank responsible for laundering billions of Russian money. Through a series of deftly plotted moves, they plan to destroy the entire Russian apparatus and its attacks against the West. But dealing with the Russians is never easy, and it will take all of Allon’s experience to complete the mission and get everyone out alive.

Spy novels have to find the right balance between the out-of-the-spotlight acts of espionage and enough of a story punch to keep things interesting. For that, Daniel Silva continues to be one of the great masters of the genre. The book’s narrative features a slew of international stops that factor into the setting for each step of the operation. The new characters quickly make their mark on the reader, while established characters reach new heights, as well.

Since this series is tied to real-world events as much as possible, the ongoing pandemic plays a role in each step of travel during the mission. Between that and the inclusion of the most recent presidential election, the book could’ve become more of an academic treatise than spy thriller. Happily, that was not the case. Just when readers think it’s over, there are more thrills to be had. Despite a wealth of technical information about banking, elections, and computer hacking, the fraught-with-tension step-by-step manner in how the operation unfurls will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Jay Roberts
Teri Duerr
July 2021