A Journalist's Archive

Moscow Rules
Daniel Silva
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          Suffering from a case of the Winter Blues? Need a little more excitement in your life than the daily commute? Have I got the prescription for you! Grab a copy of "Moscow Rules" by Daniel Silva, and enter the world of international espionage. Silva smoothly transitions between exotic locations, building suspense as he gives readers an all too accurate portrayal of the "New Russia." There's non-stop action, a smattering of romance, lots of grime and glamour, with enough twists and turns in the plot to keep readers up all night.

          "Moscow Rules" is Silva's ninth novel in his Gabriel Allon series. Spy novels are usually not my "cup of tea," so I haven't read Silva's other books. But the superb writing, character development, and research that went into "Moscow Rules" won me over by Chapter 3, so I'll be reading more Silva novels soon.

          Allon, Silva's protagonist, is an unlikely spy. His aging body doesn't resemble James Bond; he doesn't have any secret spy weapons. He's an art restorer by trade, who also dabbles in a bit of art forgery anytime it's needed to complete an Israeli intelligence mission. This assignment will require Allon to recreate a famous painting by Marie Cassatt. And he does have one other skill - an extremely accurate aim.

          The story opens with a tank-less Russian invasion. Today, the nouveau riche Russians arrive in private jets. A stream of Bentley's with bulletproof windows then whisk hundreds of money laden Russians into the French Alps resort town of Courchevel. Draped in furs and jewels, they quickly snap up the best champagne and cognac, procure reservations at the classiest restaurants, and frazzle hotel staff nerves with their endless demands. Add their spoiled brats to the mix, and it's enough to make the French scream, "Mon Dieu!"

          Only the Hotel Grand Courchevel escapes the seasonal onslaught of Russian visitors, because the Grand's staff quietly discourages all former-Soviet guests. However, a sleepy night clerk allows Alex Lubin, a Russian journalist, to slip under their radar. Not to worry, the staff executes a tactic designed to ensure Lubin will seek other accommodations. However, their plan is quickly foiled when Lubin responds to a knock on his hotel door. What did the Russian journalist know? Who wanted him dead? Read on.

          Courchevel is a perfect rendezvous spot for Ivan Kharkov and his mistress. A former colonel in the KGB, Kharkov managed to amass a great fortune as an international investor after the fall of the Empire. He is seen as the quintessential "New Russian:" rich, flamboyant, and most importantly, politically connected. His wife Elena, and their two children, are safely ensconced in Moscow, where Ivan's bodyguards oversee their every move. But Ivan is also being watched. British MI5 agents, the Mossad, and the CIA have become extremely suspicious about the source of Kharkov's new found wealth.

          Boris Ostrovsky, editor in chief of the "Gazeta," knows what generates income for Kharkov, and why Lubin was killed. But he's afraid of the siloviki, the "gang of former KGB men who've set up shop inside the Kremlin." So he will only agree to meet Allon in a public place, free of bugs and nosy Russian agents. No place in Europe is more public than St. Peter's Basilica; the two men make eye contact, but Ostrovsky is dead before Allon reaches his side.

          Now the race is on. Two Russian journalists were murdered while attempting to get information to Western agents. International security agencies know the journalists wouldn't have put their lives in danger unless their knowledge would sabotage a deadly plot. The best fiction stories are always based on fact, and Silva certainly did his homework. Publishing facts other than those approved by the State wasn't allowed in the Soviet Union, and it's still a dangerous occupation in the new Russia.

          "Moscow Rules" follows a familiar pattern. It's the age-old story of the struggle between good and evil. Kharkov represents everything we know as evil; and he's a formidable enemy for Allon. But Silva also develops other strong, realistic characters, who possess attributes he undoubtedly believes Russians need if they are ever going to escape their old KGB rulers, who recently converted into rich thugs. Elena and Colonel Grigori Bulganov are two such characters.

          So shut off the television and ski down the slopes of the French Alps; visit Umbria, Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, and Jerusalem all in few hours while Allon untangles the plot. "Moscow Rules" is sure to chase away the winter doldrums, and it would make a great Valentine's Day gift too.

First published in The New Falcon Herald
Article Copyright © 2009 Bluestack Consulting, Inc.
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