Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Daniel Silva is a veteran of the paperback empire. He boasts a long history of imagining, writing and publishing books in a variety of genres with the sole purpose of providing entertainment. His publisher lists twenty-two volumes, his latest The Order being No 23. Material written around Silva asserts and confirms his hold upon the market. A reviewer, new to Silva’s books, expects a straightforward, unvarnished run, a simple task that rouses no controversy. After all is said and done, the prize-givers have made their awards and experienced reviewers have lauded him.
Doubt that Dan Silva deserves his reputation does not exist, even if his status is a little inflated. His stories contain a strong plot that, with acceptable divergences, follow a straight line from beginning to end. In the present case, a pontiff dies, a new Pope has to be elected by the College of Cardinals. A pressure group aims to install a Pope of their own choosing and murder and bribe to ensure this comes about. An Israeli leader is called on to investigate the situation and, in concert with a Roman Catholic archbishop, ensures that justice is served. The plot, stripped to its bare bones, is simple.
A good story contains at least one strong character. This tale has two – Gabriel Allon and Archbishop Donti. This pair make no mistakes in what they do. As a result, a minor problem surfaces, an issue of predictability. We grow comfortable that nothing untoward will happen to these characters and accept as the normal thing, the murder of lesser associates. That an innocent Swiss Guard is murdered by a crazy cleric is treated as simply a necessary part of the plot. We accept that a Chief of Police killing a man and brushing it aside as of little account is an acceptable part of this genre. Of greater interest is the wife of Gabriel Allon, a minor character who appears in a sufficient number of places and contributes enough intelligent conversation, to make her appear to be integral to the story. I suspect that Silva may have meant to present her in a more minimalist role as his female characters are few. Chiara Allon, Stefani Hoffmann and Veronica Marchese are strong women who show inner strength in their varied ways of coping with adversity, but their contributions to the story are limited. I am left with an impression that Silva is uncomfortable with women populating his story.
The Order has enough about it to be considered a good story in the eyes of many of Silva’s readers. I think there is an element of tradition in his popularity. When an author has a stable of twenty-two books that, to all appearances, have been New York Times bestsellers, the assumption is that he must be a good writer and worthy of repeated purchase. However, when I scrutinised The Order, what I found were slabs of material that are nothing more than filling. As I read, I became increasingly restless. Then I analysed why this might be. I found that pages 135 – 37, and again pages 247ff on Munich, regurgitated historical material from the time of Hitler, 167 ff led into a speculative life of Pontius Pilate, while 228 – 31 gave a description of the voting processes that lead to the election of a Pope, processes that are all too familiar to anyone with the slightest interest in the Roman Catholic Church. These are just a few of many examples. I grew annoyed at basic rules of writing being cast aside. The book does not ‘show’, it ‘tells’ in nauseating detail. A perfect example of amateurish writing is the longwinded introduction of Jonas Wolf, and the insertion of Gabriel’s recollections of his mother’s face on page 269. Around page 270 ff the arch-criminal Estermann is interrogated and immediately caves in. Arch-criminals just don’t fold so easily and do not compound their sin by volunteering their part in uninvestigated crimes.
I can’t help querying the introduction of Joshua, an unusual priest who appears to be grafted onto the story, and reads to me to be an artifice that Silva employs to tie off odd bits of the plot that don’t quite fit. Further, my frustration grew and grew as both lead characters talked and talked and talked for many, many pages. Finally, an ending to my tirade, something that appealed to my sense of humour, page 142’s description of men whose blood is so purely Aryan, that it is described as ‘midnight blue’.
One of Daniel Silva’s web pages contains the following blurb:
Swiftly paced and elegantly rendered, The Order will hold readers spellbound, from its opening passages to its breathtaking final twist of plot. It is a novel of friendship and faith in a perilous and uncertain world. And it is still more proof that Daniel Silva is his generation’s finest writer of suspense and international intrigue.
By Daniel Silva
$32.99; 464 pp