A poisoned Russian dissident, an investigative journalist on the run and a non-descript German banker. Linking these three is not easy for Gabriel Allon but he will most certainly not just watch when one of his friends who once saved his life is killed with Novichok. The traces soon lead to Isabel Brenner who works at RhineBank in Zurich, the world’s dirtiest bank. Apart from calculating risks and laundering money, she also plays the cello like a professional. Deceived by her misogynist co-workers, she starts to leak information about the “Russian Laundromat”, the bank’s way of cleaning Russian oligarchs’ rubles. It does not take long for her to be convinced to work with Gabriel Allon to bring the bank and the Russians to fall. Their main target is Arkady Akimov but he himself is actually only a small figure, it is somebody much bigger and much more influential who is behind the Russian money.
In the twenty-first novel of the series about the legendary Israeli spy and art restorer turned into director-general of the world famous intelligence service, Daniel Silva focusses on another current topic: the political influence which money can buy, especially money which was acquired illegally and washed through layers of fake firms by banks which are only too willing to profit. The author also managed to incorporate the Covid restrictions as well as the challenges to the American democracy that we have witnessed in January 2021 making it highly topical.
The cellist is a remarkable character, on the one hand, she is a highly intelligent cool mathematician who knows how to juggle with numbers and money. On the other hand, as a woman, she experiences the misogynist behaviour of her colleagues in a dominantly male business and despite her skills is prevented from unfolding her full potential. She finds solace in music, the cello she can play on her own and the impact the tone has on her own mood but also on others is amazing.
The Russians are an old but nevertheless still interesting topic in spy novels. It is not the cold war scenario of piling up destructive weapons anymore, the war between the systems is fought a lot more subtly today. Nerve agents like Novichok have become broad knowledge and the fact that money makes the world go round is also well-known. Having the financial means leads to the necessary power to rule the world, regardless of democratic systems and boundaries which only seem to exist on paper.
Silva proves again that he is a masterful storyteller. He brilliantly interweaves different plot lines to create a high paced and suspenseful novel. Still after so many instalments, one does not get exhausted by the protagonist since the author always finds a completely new story to tell.
What could be a good place to hide for some time? Bangkok it is Sarah resolves after she has stolen $200.000 from her former employer in New York. In the anonymous building “The Kingdom” she hopes to spend some weeks alone to have the situation cool down. Soon, she gets to know some other tenants, Mali, a half-Thai girl whom Sarah can never fully grasp. And there is the Chilean Ximena, a chef who dreams of her own restaurant whereas Natalie lives the life of a rich wife and sees Bangkok only as a short stop before moving to a better place. Even though most of the people keep to themselves, secrets move fast within the walls of the glass skyscraper and it does not take too long for Sarah to rouse her neighbours’ suspicions and interest.
I have been a huge fan of Lawrence Osborne’s novels for some years. Not only do his settings vary enormously – Morocco, Greece, Mexico, now Thailand – but he also creates highly interesting characters whom he confronts with challenging situations they, on the one hand, provoked themselves but which, on the other, unexpectedly get highly complicated without an actual good way out. Thus, he brings out the worst of human nature.
At first, Sarah seems a bit lost and you feel sympathy for her, but just until you learn which reckless behaviour brought her to the strange house. Yet, only for a short time do those negative feelings towards the protagonist linger since you soon realise that she is too naive and trusting for the world she entered. All other characters behave highly suspiciously and it is obvious that the young American will easily fall prey to them even though they are all quite diverse and aim at different things, whom their victim will be is more than obvious.
Just as the outer world is shaken by a political turmoil, also the inner world of The Kingdom seems to crumble. Decision have to be made and options have to be weighed quickly. Cleverly, Osborne builds increasing suspense and shows those sides of human character you never wanted to see. Threats appear from all corners, even the most unexpected, all heading to a highly tragic end.
Bea and Dan are frustrated with their London life and jobs and therefore decide to take a couple of months off. They start their tour across Europe in France where Bea’s brother Alex runs a hotel. Yet, when they arrive in the Burgundy village, it seems completely deserted. The hotel has never seen any guests and the house is completely run down. However, Alex is happy with the way things are. Bea is all but close to her family and when her parents announce to visit their children, she is all but amused. Dan cannot understand his wife’s hostility towards her parents, but there is a lot more that he doesn’t know and when they are hit by a major incident, he finally gets to know his real in-laws.
It’s the third novel by Sadie Jones that I have read and just like the other two before, again I really enjoyed her style of writing. The full extent of the story only slowly reveals and even though it is not a classic suspense novel, you know that there is a lot buried that will be uncovered sooner or later and you eagerly wait for it to show.
The strongest aspect were the complicated family ties. It is not clear at the beginning why Bea resents her parents so much, only when these two characters show up you start to understand her hatred and why she tried to cut all bonds. It is clearly a dysfunctional family in all respects: a strong and stubborn father who, self-centred as he is, just ignores the needs of the other family members and egoistically subordinates all to his wishes. The mother, however, is rather weak and clearly has a very unhealthy relationship with her children, even though they vary a lot. Alex and Bea seem to get along quite well even though there is a big gap in their age, yet, their different attitude towards the parents makes it impossible for them to really unite.
And the novel is about money. It is difficult to talk about it without revealing too much of the plot, thus, quite obviously, it doesn’t really help to make you happy. Even if you got masses of it. All in all, a very compelling read that I enjoyed a lot.
The Alters are a very special kind of family. As their telling name suggests, they want to be there for the others, alter in Latin, what leaves them in a complete mess. After mother Francine’s death, Arthur runs deeply in debt and is not realising that his career is over and that it is only a question of time until his Midwestern college sets him free. His son Ethan had started a big career after college, but found his work dull and useless and finally just quit. Daughter Maggie had higher ambitions from the start, but troubles financing her work at non-profit organisations leaves her almost famished. When Arthur calls for a family reunion to save the family home, Maggie and Ethan are not sure if they want to come. And from their past, this reunion can only end in a catastrophe.
Andrew Ridker’s debut is a tour de force through a family history narrated in a hilarious tone that reminds me strongly of the classic Jewish wit and humour. The characters suffer their shortcomings, but are never humiliated. He treats them with a generous smile, knowing that they can’t actually change the way they are. He integrates stereotypes carefully so that it is a great fun to deconstruct them, starting with the family name and ending with the fact that it is money that drives the story.
The author created some quite interesting characters, even though they try to lead a meaningful life, selfless and to the benefit of others, all three of them withdraw from the world and social contacts and in the end, find themselves only circling around themselves. For me, this seems to be the most central question of the novel: how can you lead a meaningful life, that has a purpose and a lasting impact on the world. Careers do not seem to be the solution, but the absence of careers also isn’t the answer. Just as the Alters, the reader will have to figure out for himself what makes you happy and gives a meaning to your time on earth.