The Recipe for a SpyThriller



1 battle hardened protagonist
1 old and grumpy (ex) boss
2-4 colleagues from protagonist’s agency
2-4 colleagues from other agencies
1 antagonist
1 decoy antagonist
1 shit hitting the fan
1-2 kickassery scenes
1 gotcha! moment
1 dash of dry humour
1 idyllic scene with the love interest
1 pinch of foreshadowing


  1. Give people a preview of what the problem is going to be
  2. Introduce the protagonist and his colleagues
  3. Have the protagonist investigate the main problem
  4. Grumpy (ex) boss should yell at the protagonist (this can happen after shit has hit the fan)
  5. Show the protagonist reveal the plot behind the decoy antagonist
  6. Show the shit hitting the fan because the colleagues (from other agencies) are idiots and the protagonist reaching the Gotcha! moment
  7. Have the protagonist and antagonist face each other
  8. Protagonist kicking ass and not really bothering with taking names
  9. End with an idyllic scene but insert a pinch of tension for the future books in the form of foreshadowing.
  10. Throughout the whole book ad some dry humour.

Et voilà!

Daniel Silva (in most of his novels) follows this patter. You might say then that it would get boring, but no! Even after 13 books I’m still here, waiting to start a new adventure. The trick is to vary the antagonists. Gabriel Allon, the hero of Silva’s novels, an ex Israeli spy, is there to fight ex Nazis, Russian oligarchs, Iranian extremists, and greedy Swiss bankers.

The best thing about these books, beside the kickassery which is at times so good it makes you nauseous, is the new things you learn. Silva offers those “infodumps” that are common in thrillers, but with him are delivered in such a way that you feel like Gabriel’s partner and you are just getting to know the case file. Silva leads you through museums and cathedrals and makes you feel like you are really there. He explains the inner workings of criminal enterprises and you feel like you could go undercover there as soon as he’s done speaking.

On to these three books. Let’s start with the weakest one:

The English Girl 2.5/5

An English woman disappears while on vacation on Corsica. It turns out that she is the lover of the British PM and he is now being blackmailed. Gabriel is called in to investigate and try and find her because he’s just that good. On the course of his investigation Gabriel meets shady politicians, crazy fortune tellers and mafia bosses. Things turn ugly and Gabriel decides to exact his revenge on people responsible.

This one was the weakest because it lacked the danger the other two books had. It felt too individual, too personal, and not connected to Gabriel himself. Silva asks us to care about the future of politicians and their lovers, and sorry, but I just don’t care.

Portrait of a Spy 4/5

The book opens with Gabriel trying to prevent a bomb attack in London and failing because he hesitated for a moment. (Now that is a way to start a book!) Gabriel and his old friends in the intelligence business need to find a way to stop a future attack that they know is coming. Gabriel has an idea to reach out to a woman whose life he had changed in the past, and not in a good way. Gabriel has to face his past actions and try and work past them. He succeeds, of course, but at a price. The plot twist in the final chapters is just heartbreaking. You feel the heat of the desert together with Gabriel and you just hope that he’ll be able to swing everything around.

Here we have that element that was missing from the English Girl – a more global threat, or at least, not a private threat against a sleazeball. The antagonists here are extremists trying to kill innocent people in order to punish those who don’t believe the same thing that they do.

The Fallen Angel 4/5

Gabriel is in the Vatican, restoring a painting, when a woman is found dead in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope’s private secretary asks Gabriel to investigate what had happened, whether the woman killed herself or was murdered. During his investigation, Gabriel is thrown into the Rome’s high society and among art dealers/smugglers. The death connects not only to the organized crime involved in art smuggling, but also to international terrorist organizations. The final portion of the book is a race against the time in a magnificent plot twist involving the Temple in Jerusalem, archaeologists and the pope. Just a wonderful page turner of a book.

The Fallen Angel is probably one of my favourite Gabriel Allon books. It has it all – intrigue, theft, murder, terrorism, new locations, long lost treasures, and tragic love stories involving priests and art dealers. An excellent book.

The good thing about Daniel Silva’s books – even though they are a series you can basically read them as standalones. Silva gives you all the relevant information you need in order to understand who’s who and what’s what in the book. So, if you are daunted by the sheer number of books, look at the blurbs and just read the one(s) whose main plot line interests you the most. If, however, you aren’t daunted, use these books as a palate cleanser in between other books you read.

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