Daniel Silva – The Cellist

Daniel Silva – The Cellist

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.

Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

jackie kabler the perfect couple
Jackie Kabler – The Perfect Couple

Life has been perfect for Gemma and her husband Danny. The successful journalist and IT specialist have decided to flee busy London and settle in Bristol in a nice home where the quality of living is higher. When Gemma returns one Friday evening only three weeks after their move, she expects Danny to be at home waiting for her with dinner. However, their house is deserted, no sign that her partner has been at home after work. First, she is only slightly concerned, working overtime is not unusual in his job, but not getting hold of him makes her wonder. After changing his job, he hasn’t gotten a new mobile phone and thus, they only communicate via e-mail which he doesn’t answer. Gemma bravely waits two days, becoming increasingly frightened before she contacts the police for filing a missing persons’ report. What she learns then is that two men looking like Danny’s twins have been murdered in the area and soon she finds herself prime suspect in a serial killer case as strangely, there is not the least sign in her home of Danny ever having lived there with her. What is she actually hiding?

Jackie Kabler’s mystery novel starts quite typical for a thriller, you are immediately thrown into the plot and discover the vanishing of her husband together with Gemma. Thus, you get her growing concern first hand and can easily follow her thoughts. When the police’s side of the story is told, the author switches the point of view and leaves you quite quickly in the positing where you wonder if either you were fooled by Gemma who seemingly has set up some very good murder plot or if the woman suffers from some kind of serious mental troubles and even only imagined to have a husband whom strangely hardly anybody seems to have known. On the other hand, there is some creepy feeling that Danny might have taken advantage of Gemma for some scheme of his own, they haven’t been married that long and he proposed only weeks after they had gotten to know each other.

I totally adored the constant insecurity about whom to trust and what to believe; the more you learn about the characters and the further the events develop, you have to adapt your opinion and change sides more than once. Some unexpected twists and turns keep you hooked to the novel and make it hard to put it down. “The Perfect Couple” is a psychological thriller with an interestingly drawn protagonist and a surprising storyline which make a thrilling and gripping read.

John Marrs – The Passengers

John Marrs – The Passengers

“Who in their right mind would want to send someone to their death?”

Cadman read the tablet he held

“Approximately two hundred thousand people so far – and that’s based only on what’s trending on Twitter.”

When mental nurse Libby is called into a jury to decide on accidents caused by self-drive cars, she is astonished since she never kept her position on those a secret. Having witnessed an evil crash, she is absolutely against handing over control to AI. But she never expected the outcome of her jury session, nobody in there would ever have expected this. Soon after they started, the system is taken over by a Hacker claiming to have taken over eight self-drive cars and threatening to have them collide in two and a half hours. The jury has the chance to save one of them, should they not comply with his rules, he would immediately kill one after the other. But not only the jury would be there to judge, also the world outside could be part of the show and have their vote via social media. It’s the show of the year and the prize is high: it’s your life and you aren’t even asked if you want to take part in it.

John Marrs’ thriller really caught me by surprise and left a deep impression. Not only is the story masterly crafted with many unexpected twists and turns, no, it also mirrors our own behaviour in many different ways thus making you flinch at times because you recognise yourself and feel ashamed soon after. It surely is an absolute must-read for everybody using any kind of technology.

I hardly know where to begin with this novel. There are so many topics and layers that don’t make it easy to find a beginning. First of all, the setting of this evil game. Forcing people to make a decision over life and death is not just unfair, it is impossible. Yet, given no other way out, the jury has to come to a decision based on the information they have and only later do they find out that core aspects have been omitted which cast a completely different light on the person they have just sentenced to death. As a reader, you follow their verdict and often agree – running into the open knife just like they did. All passengers have something evil they hide, but the world isn’t simply black and white and only the whole picture provides you with what you would have needed to know before coming to a final decision. Too often we come to a conclusion fat too soon before we know all we should.

Second, the role of technology in our life surely should be questioned a lot more. The self-drive cars could definitely help to ease the situation in frequently gridlocked cities, on the other hand: what’s the price we pay for this? Providing more from the novel would spoil the fun, but as could be assumed, there is much more behind that we undeniably should think about before welcoming all technological advances. Also the role of social media should be seen a lot more critical than we do at the moment. Marrs goes so far as to give Twitter a vote – without anybody knowing who or what is behind it.

The protagonists also are very interesting in their own ways. Not just Libby, but also the passengers and of course Jack Larsson, the minister, are carefully drawn and offer a lot questionable traits of character.

I am totally flashed by this ambitious novel for which I am actually lacking the words to honour it.

Michael Dobbs – House of Cards

Michael Dobbs – House of Cards

Nachdem die große Premierministerin Margaret Thatcher abgedankt hat, werden die Conservatives von Henry Collingridge angeführt. Ein katastrophales Wahlergebnis mit nur knappem Sieg stürzt die Parteimitglieder in ein tiefes Loch, hinzu kommen die üblichen Enttäuschungen nach den Wahlen, wenn man den erhofften Posten nicht bekommen hat. So ergeht es auch Francis Urquhart, Chief Whip, der auf die Leitung eines Ministeriums gehofft hatte und jetzt zusehen soll, wie unfähige Dumpfbacken an ihm vorbeiziehen. Doch das wird er nicht so einfach auf sich sitzen lassen und Schritt für Schritt nimmt sein Plan Formen an. Es beginnt mit kleinen Leaks und führt letztlich zum Sturz des Premierministers. Der Weg für parteiinterne Neuwahlen ist geöffnet, aber es gibt Gegenkandidaten – diese ahnen jedoch nicht, was Urquhart in den Jahren zuvor alles über sie gesammelt hat und jetzt einzusetzen bereit ist.

Michael Dobbs kennt den innersten Kreis der Conservatives, hat selbst ab 1977 für die Partei gearbeitet und war unter Thatcher ein hoher Parteifunktionär. Der Rausschmiss durch die Eiserne Lady hat in seinem eigentlich als Erholung gedachten Urlaub zu dem schier unglaublichen Politthriller geführt, der mehrfach verfilmt wurde und als Netflix Serie große Erfolge feierte.

Im Zentrum der Handlung steht Francis Urquhart, dessen Machenschaften vor dem Hintergrund von Dobbs realen Erfahrungen noch erschreckender wirken als sie es schon sind. Es wird mit harten Bandagen gekämpft und vor nichts Halt gemacht. Jede noch so kleine Verfehlung kann den großen Sturz auslösen und ein cleverer und intelligenter Strippenzieher wie Urquhart weiß die Schwächen seiner Gegner zu nutzen. Er hat Geduld und Überblick, agiert nie hastig, sondern wartet geschickt seine Chancen ab, die er mal herbeiführt und mal einfach nutzen kann. Für die Macht geht er bis zum Äußersten und man hat nicht den geringsten Zweifel daran, dass dies alles genau so geschehen könnte. Seine einzige ernstzunehmende Gegenspielerin ist die junge Journalistin Mattie, die jedoch ebenfalls geschickt kaltgestellt werden kann, was sie jedoch nicht daran hindert, weiterhin Nachforschungen anzustellen und dem wahren Täter der Verschwörung auf die Schliche zu kommen.

Nicht nur die Handlung ist überzeugend konstruiert und bietet genau die Spannung, die man von einem Buch in diesem Genre erwarten würde. Auch Dobbs Schreibstil zwischen süffisanter Ironie und kaltherziger Abrechnung konnte mich schnell packen. Besonders die kurzen Zitate, die jedem Kapitel vorangestellt sind, zeigen nicht nur, dass der Autor genau weiß, wovon er schreibt, sondern dass er seine Worte auch punktgenau platzieren kann:

Kapitel 18: The world of Westminster is driven by ambition and exhaustion and alcohol. And lust. Especially lust.

Kapitel 27: A politician should never spend too much time thinking. It distracts attention from guarding his back.

Die Motti stimmen hervorragend ein und Dobbs folgt ihnen dann nur noch konsequenterweise. Beste Unterhaltung, die keine Wünsche offen lässt und auch nach fast 30 Jahren nichts an Relevanz und Überzeugungskraft verloren hat.