“House of Spies” is author Daniel Silva’s 17th novel to feature Israeli art restorer/spy/assassin Gabriel Allon. That’s 16 more than Silva expected to write for this complex and compelling protagonist.
“He was never supposed to be a continuing character,” Silva says. “He was supposed to appear in one book and one book only. I actually had to be talked into even writing a second book, because I just didn’t think the marketplace would accept an Israeli as a leading man, a continuing hero. I thought there was too much anti-Israeli sentiment in the world and, frankly, too much anti-Semitism, for it to ever work in a truly mass-market way.
“So I think it’s fair to say that no one’s more surprised by the fact that Gabriel Allon is a number one New York Times bestseller than the person who created him.”
Silva will discuss the character, and the new book, at Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto on Tuesday.
The latest bestselling novel in the series, the taut, riveting “House of Spies,” released on Tuesday, sends Allon and his associates in Israeli intelligence and Britain’s MI6 on a hunt for the mysterious ISIS mastermind known as Saladin.“I want people to take away the importance of getting rid of ISIS as quickly as possible, which is something I believe we need to do,” Silva says. “That would be the underlying message of the book.”
There’s comfort to be had in experiencing even fictional characters making a dent in terrorist armor.
“That is one of the reasons why people like this kind of book. They feel frustration and they’d like to do what my character and the characters around him do.”
Silva often seems prescient in his writing. He envisioned ISIS attacks taking place in Europe and the U.K. before they actually happened. The U.K. is the primary setting for “House of Spies.”
“I take it very seriously, and I devote a lot of time and effort into following these issues and talking to people. The United Kingdom had been involved in the anti-ISIS coalition from the beginning. The United Kingdom is one of the two great targets in the mind of the global Jihadist movement. The United States obviously being target number one. ISIS definitely wanted to stake its claim to the United Kingdom.”
MGM Television, with Silva’s participation, is creating a series featuring Gabriel Allon. Over the years, Silva has gotten to know Allon as one might a close friend.
“As I say to my wife, I spend more time in his world that I do in this world. I’m working eight to 10 hours a day. Even when I’m not working, the book that I’m writing is running through my subconscious.”
Silva is fascinated not only by Allon’s spy exploits, but by his art restoration. “The more I studied the craft of restoration, it seemed like it had much in common with the craft of assassination — the detail, the way you approach the target.”
Gabriel Allon has resonated with readers across the globe. “It’s his humanity, really,” Silva says. “It is the fact that there are two distinct sides to his character, the fact that I write espionage stories in a way that makes them appeal to people who might not necessarily pick up an espionage novel, that I spend a lot of time just in the personal, the interior lives of these characters. And they’re universal. And the journey that he’s taken. His own personal restoration has been a very compelling one.
“When I first created this guy, he was a morose, grieving character, a recluse living at the end of the world, basically, in Cornwall, England. Readers have gone on a remarkable journey with him. He has repaired and restored himself to the best of his ability and is now the chief of the Israeli secret intelligence service.”
Silva toiled in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent before working as a producer for CNN.
“I became a journalist so I could become a novelist. Whether it’s Graham Greene or Hemingway, there’s a long tradition of journalists becoming novelists. It seemed to me to be the best way to do it.”
Born in Michigan and raised in Merced, California, Silva now lives in Florida with his wife, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel. Their twins, a son and a daughter, just graduated from university.
Now, when Silva peruses the New York Times, he can’t help but think like a novelist.
“I just can’t read the paper without seeing through the story, what might be happening behind the scenes and then automatically starting to think about writing a book about it. I have more ideas for stories than I’ll ever be able to write.”
After more than 20 years, he did not expect to still be writing about Gabriel Allon’s adventures.
“Doesn’t everyone who writes a long-running series feel like they would like to write something else? I certainly do. I certainly will. At this point, I’ve written more Gabriel Allon novels than Fleming ever wrote Bond novels or Tom Clancy ever wrote Jack Ryan novels. Seventeen is a big number. So I will write something else at some point.
“I think I’m at the halfway point of my career. So it’s a question of when and under what circumstances. Now that I’ve got a television show about to come on the air, there’s going to be even more pressure to keep the series going. But these are good problems to have, right?”
Where: Oshman Family JCC, Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Tickets: $40 premium (includes book, premium seating and post-event reception with author); $25 ticket and book bundle; $18 general (ticket only); $15 members and J-Pass Holders (ticket only); www.paloaltojcc.org; 650-223-8649