The Cellist
July 17, 2021

Book Review

The Cellist

reviewed by Lou Jacobs


Legendary spy, assassin, and art restorer Gabriel Allon is back in another masterful tale of suspense and international intrigue. Gabriel is now the director-general of Israel’s vaunted intelligence service, sometimes referred to as “the Office.”

Although this is the twenty-first compelling adventure of the legendary spymaster, it can be enjoyed as a standalone, as Silva once again, seamlessly provides the necessary backstory. I have read them all, and feverishly try to savor each one, but could not help but quickly devour this immersive tale. As always, Silva employs timely events to weave his compelling tale of intrigue. As the story unfolds the world is gripped in a worldwide pandemic as the Russians continue to meddle in world affairs in an attempt to undermine democracy.

No time is wasted, as the initial salvo results in intrigue with the murder of prominent and wealthy Russian dissident Viktor Orlov in his London home. It appears he was exposed to the Russian nerve agent, Novichok, as he was opening a cache of documents just delivered to his residence by investigative journalist, Nina Antonova. Nina works for his dissident newspaper, the Moskovskaya Gazeta. Immediately the question arises: Was she a Russian asset embedded into the newspaper or was she somehow duped into delivering the tainted documents? This was not the first packet of documents delivered that incriminated the money trail leading to Omega Holdings. Assets of billions were being hidden beneath layers of shell corporations by a highly placed Russian, who was most likely close to the president of Russia, and probably part of his inner circle. This Russian was virtually stealing government assets for his own personal wealth. These packets of incriminating data were being supplied by an unknown source, going by the nom de plume of “Mr. Nobody.”

Gabriel owes his life to Viktor, as he was instrumental in gaining his and his wife’s freedom from the clutches of the Russian government. Gabriel immediately mounts an investigation into his murder and assembles his hand-picked team of fearless operatives known by the code name, Barak (Hebrew world for lightening) due to their uncanny ability to gather and strike quickly. A team of operatives that we have encountered in previous books, but are re-introduced for the new reader. Several other beloved characters and assets of Gabriel’s are re-introduced and play an important part in the unfolding drama. Sara Bancroft, previous asset and lover, has recently come to London to assume a managerial position at Isherwood Fine Arts studio, and Christopher Keller returns as “Peter Marlowe,” although now working for the British M16, he was a previous freelance assassin and “hit man.”

Gabriel soon learns that “Mr. Nobody” is actually Isabel Brenner, a compliance officer for the Rhine Bank of Zurich. Which is widely acknowledged as the dirtiest and most nefarious bank in the world. As an aside, we learn that this same bank financed both the building of Auschwitz concentration camp, as well as the factory that produced Zyklon B pellets that were used in the gas chambers. Isabel is an accomplished cellist, but gave up a professional career to pursue an advanced education in finance and economics. Her first job was a risk manager at the Hamburg branch of Rhine Bank, where she daily battled with the ethically challenged traders. Rather than fire her, she was transferred to the Zurich branch as a compliance officer.

She quickly uncovered the “Russian Laundromat” section of the bank, which surreptitiously “cleaned” the ill-gotten assets. She had hoped to expose them through the investigative journalism of Nina Antonova. Isabel will play a pivotal role as she willingly joins Gabriel’s team, and enters into a crash course in tradecraft.

Soon Gabriel’s team identified Arkady Akimov as the Russian behind Omega Holdings. Arkady is an oil trader and oligarch, living luxuriously on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Most of his employees at his firm NevaNeft are former Russian intelligence officers of the KGB. He was boyhood friends with President Vladimir Vladimirovich and both were recruited by KGB and attended the Red Banner Institute spy school. Both were experts at propaganda, political warfare, disinformation, subversion, and influence operations—all designed to tear at the fabric of Western society. Arkady was instrumental in placing Vladimir into the Grand Kremlin Palace. He was aware that “Money” was Russia’s greatest weapon. It was used to trap and ensnare businessmen, bankers, politicians, and even high ranking senior intelligence operatives, in an effort to rot the integrity of Western society from within.

Gabriel’s grand plan to ensnare Arkady Akimov had many moving parts. His intricate plan involved enticing the already infatuated Arkady with the beautiful, intelligent, and talented Isabel, using her talents with the cello and numbers. A monumental cultural event was orchestrated that Arkady could not possibly miss. The One World Global Alliance for Democracy scheduled an event at the Kunsthaus Art Museum of Zurich for the unveiling of a recently discovered lost painting “The Lute Player” attributed to the famous painter, Artemisia Gentileschi. This was being sponsored by financier and philanthropist Martin Landesmann, who was promising an appearance of the world-famous Swiss violinist, Anna Rolfe. (We discover that Rolfe and Allon have had a prior six-month tumultuous relationship).

Silva proves to be a masterful storyteller as he weaves a complex and twisted tale of intrigue, deception, greed, bloodlust, and violence. He effortlessly creates a cast of supporting diverse characters that are well fleshed out in an utterly believable world building setting that involves present day issues, concerns and even politics. This proves to be a scary cautionary tale. One can only hope that we have not seen the last of the talented Isabel Brenner.

Thanks to Harper Collins Publishers for supplying an advance copy of this compelling novel in exchange for an honest review.

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