Gabriel Allon is on site and fails to stop a terrorist attack in London. He leaves his Cornish retirement to help a CIA ally eradicate the network that executed the attack, as well as the operational mastermind and inspiration of said network. Ultimately Gabriel lives and triumphs...which should surprise no one. Entertaining, somewhat engrossing, extremely well written, Portrait of a Spy was not all I hoped it would be. I can handle the Allon books being cookie cutter plots, but the books are so well written that I enjoy the ride even though. However, what begins as a really clever idea is not carried through by the author. Silva had the chance to break from the mold of the last few books and he chose not to.
On the cookie cutter front, we have the standard Allon associates-Shamron, Uri, the Allon Team, and now extended elements in the CIA and the world of broadcast news. We have world class bad guys with an agenda...but the new trick is that the bad guys will be found by routing funds to them with the help of the daughter of...a man Allon killed and who dies in the arms of the daughter Allon wants help from.
If there is a weakness in the Allon series, it may be how anyone who is asked feels compelled to help Allon, and in the course of working with/for him they come to see him as being wonderful...even here. No one comes away feeling used or bitter or in any way conflicted or angry. That is the opportunity Silva misses in Portrait of a Spy. As I rolled through the book-and it is quite easy reading-I kept waiting for that moment when the daughter would break bad on Gabriel, or maybe have her own agenda, or just do something so that we are moved for a time away from actions and movement based on international intrigue to something based in a more personal situation.
The book is entertaining and easy to read. For those who have not read an Allon novel this could well be a five star book. Even with the traditional/cookie cutter plot I would normally run it at four stars. However, this time Silva created characters and a situation where he could have gone in a different direction...and backed away. It is our loss as readers that Mr. Silva backed away from this opportunity to broaden his characters and milleu of the "Allon experience".
A general observation about the Allon series, and not about this book in particular...Gabriel is getting too old to reasonably be doing what he is doing. I thought this would be the novel where Mr. Silva heads Gabriel down a different track-another path he opted not to follow. Allon has to be about 60. He was recruited as an art student into the Sword of Gideon project puts him about age 20 in 1972, and that is an age/event that Silva has not run from (as Robert Parker did with Spenser's army service in the Korean era). Frankly, he cannot, as that experience tracking down the Munich 1972 terrorists is the foundation of and entryway into the Israeli intelligence service. Yet Allon is regularly doing things that would be problematic for a man half his age, from chasing down bad guys to intentionally taking beatings so as to get close to the bad guys. The same happens in this book. Silva needs to find a way to move Gabriel into situations where he is using his experience and not his body to make things happen-which btw would help get away from the cookie cutter thing.