Silva has spent time in the Middle East. He writes an
espionage series about an Israeli intelligence officer,
after all, and before that he worked as United Press
Internationalís Middle Eastern correspondent in Cairo.
In his 18 novels, he delves into the regionís dark
side, writing of terrorist threats and the dangers of
Iranian nuclear capabilities.
he will tell you that the scariest place he has ever
been is Northern Ireland.
was there in 1998, the year of the Omagh bombing,"
says Silva. "I actually saw the scene of a bombing
a few hours after it happened in Portadown. They
destroyed the high street with one of these 500-pound
car bombs. ... Belfast was just so sad and tense and
horrible during the war. The communities were at each
otherís throats. If you walked down the wrong street,
you could get killed. It was rough."
from the bombing in Omagh ó which killed 29 people and
injured 220, the highest death toll during Irelandís
"Troubles" ó plays a pivotal role in Silvaís
riveting new novel. In "The English Spy,"
legendary spy, assassin and sometime art-restorer
Gabriel Allon takes on a former Irish Republican Army
bombmaker-turned-mercenary, with the help of former
British commando Christopher Keller, who has his own
bloody past with the violent militia.
Allon truly loves art; in Silvaís last book, "The
Heist," he searched for a missing Caravaggio. But
he doesnít get much chance to spend time with his
beloved masterpieces in the fast-paced "The English
wanted to write a good old-fashioned bang-bang
book," Silva says. "When I start to think
about a book, itís helpful to try and say exactly what
kind of book Iím writing. They do fall into
categories. Sometimes Gabriel acts as a private
detective. Sometimes heís an operational agent. In
this case, the story was just about a straight-up
"The English Spy," the Irish terrorist on the
lam turns out to be linked to some of Israelís worst
enemies (he also once tried and failed to kill Keller,
who has emerged as one of Silvaís most intriguing
characters). As usual, Silva took a page from history
link between Northern Ireland and the modern world is
very real," Silva says. "After the war,
members of the I.R.A. did go out into the world, and
they worked for some really bad people. They sold
bombmaking techniques to the Iranians. A delegation went
to Tehran and helped them develop anti-tank weapons to
give to Hamas and Hezbollah. ... Remember that the
ability to make high-quality bombs is what separates
hotheads from a really effective terrorist army."
is comfortable discussing international intrigue and the
future of world relations (he had Allon tangling with
the Russians long before Vladimir Putinís recent
antics). Hard, then, to believe that after he wrote the
first Gabriel Allon novel he had to be persuaded to
write the second.
didnít think it was a good idea to have an Israeli
continuing character because I thought there was too
much anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment in the
world," he says.
admits he has been proven wrong but adds that now,
"There is a growing anti-Israeli sentiment rising
in Europe in particular and even in America. ... Some
people are so angry at Israel they might not pick up a
book about an Israeli character. The flip side is that
gives me an atmosphere for the novel of this besieged
country, and an edge like that I like. Itís easier to
write. There arenít many great books written about
happy relationships. You need drama and conflict. ...
for better or worse, thereís no shortage of conflict
in the Middle East."
on such a series means spending a lot of time
researching dark material (Silva confesses that he
relaxes by watching cooking shows at night: "I love
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives ó thatís my guilty
pleasure"). But heís not ready to give up on
Allon and The Office ó Israelís intelligence agency
ó just yet.
will never see 50 again, but I donít see myself as
nearing the end of my career," he says, adding that
he does not rule out writing a novel about Christopher
Keller, who at the end of "The English Spy"
embarks on an intriguing new career. "I hope that
at a certain point I will write about something other
than Gabriel Allon. ... Heís still fun for me to
remind my family when they accuse me of being
absent-minded or not paying attention that I spend more
time in his world than I do in the real one," says
Silva, whoís married to journalist Jamie Gangel; they
have two children. "I donít mean to sound like a
crazy person! I set scenes in places where friends of
mine live. I borrow traits from people I know. When I
talk about them with my wife, when Iím working through
something, I refer to them as though theyíre friends.
I talk about their lives as though theyíre real."