Just before The New Girl Was released, legendary journalist Bob Woodward weighed in on Facebook: “At times a brilliant novel tells us as much about the times we live in—and the struggles of the world, the global deceptions and tragedies—as well or better than journalism.”
In this case, the brilliant novel was Daniel Silva’s latest, and the best-selling author was, to put it mildly, surprised.
“That’s very kind of Bob to say that,” Silva says. “Especially since the book concerns, to a large degree, events inspired by the murder of a Washington Post columnist.”
Silva readily admits he likes writing about the real world, “one or two steps removed,” which is why his novels often read as though they’ve been ripped from the headlines. In some cases, the action actually precedes the headlines, causing an eerie sense of déjà vu when someone reads one of his stories and then turns on the news to see a similar event unfolding in the kinetic world.
Silva makes two appearances in Houston this week, a signing at Murder by the Book, and then a Q&A at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center, where he’ll be interviewed by his wife, Jamie Gangel, a special correspondent for CNN. The two have often appeared on Silva’s book tours together, with Gangel asking him questions on everything from his writing process to current affairs.
“She never fails to make the audience roar with laughter because she knows all the quirks and the funny things about my personality,” he says. “There is some really lighthearted, entertaining stuff.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s all fluff.
“She’s one of the most prominent journalists of her generation,” Silva says. “At a certain point, I sort of forget it’s my wife sitting there. We really get into the nuts and bolts and the meat and serious issues that are behind any of my novels.”
And his novels, while crackling suspense thrillers, have the ring of current events. The New Girl is the 19th in his Gabriel Allon series, in which the protagonist, a former Israeli assassin turned chief of Israeli intelligence, finds himself in an odd place.
The Saudi crown prince, Khalid bin Mohammed, has enlisted him to help him find his kidnapped daughter. In a case of truly strange bedfellows, Allon and KBM, as he’s known, attempt to save the girl’s life. In the process, Allon uncovers ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia, an alliance that could prove deadly and devastating for Israel. But KBM isn’t all he seems. His presumed Westernization is no match for his ruthlessness against those who disagree with him, including a journalist, who is brutally murdered. As Allon wades deeper into the maelstrom, old ideas will be upended, new alliances forged and the fate of global relations hangs in the balance.
If all that sounds a bit like the events behind the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the rise and fall of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), it’s because those events captivated Silva, as much as they captivated the world.
“I mapped out the arc of what I wanted to do with this Macbethian character I created,” he says. “If I were to identify the spine of this novel it’s that I turned that character into the MBS we all hoped he would be, and who he promised to be.”
When MBS visited the States about six months before Khashoggi’s murder, the reception was unlike anything Silva had ever seen, with Hollywood moguls, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, and politicians of every stripe flocking to meet the Saudi leader.
“It was unbelievable,” says Silva, “and to think, a year removed from that he went from being what I jokingly call the most interesting man in the world to the most vilified—and rightly so. It was interesting to sort of steal that little element from his character and apply it to my character, and what that means and what that must be like.”
Readers who’ve followed Silva already know they’re in for a fast-paced, sweeping summertime read. And along the way, they’ll likely absorb a whole lot of current events.
“I take my work seriously and I do a serious amount research, but at the same time, first and foremost, these are works of entertainment,” he says. ”There are larger truths in the world, and fiction is very good at boiling down a complicated story.”
He cautions the task shouldn’t necessarily end there.
“Fiction is obviously no substitute if you are serious about a subject matter,” he says, laughing. “You should probably do a little deeper reading.”