Novelist Daniel Silva, like his protagonist, Gabriel Allon, is a patriot. And like Allon, he’s worried about the state of Western democracy. The Houston favorite author had written most of his latest thriller, The Cellist, when he was forced to throw out more than half the book and start over. The reason? The January 6 insurrection in Washington, D. C.
At the center of The Cellist, Silva's 21st Allon novel, which hits shelves July 13, is the influence of Russian money on Western politics. After a Russian billionaire exiled in England is murdered by foreign operatives, Israeli spy master Gabriel Allon sets out to find the killers. Among those he enlists to help him is a beautiful analyst employed by the dirtiest bank in the world, and his hunt for clues takes him across Europe, finally landing in Geneva, where he uncovers a plot to undermine Western democracy.
A severely divided America makes an easy target for revanchist Russians happy to pump millions of dollars into US politics to deepen the divide. Familiar, no? We spoke to Silva, who makes a digital return to Murder by the Book tonight, about his latest return to the world of espionage page-turners.
Lots of books and movies use the “torn from the headlines” tag line. It’s usually just PR, but, in this case, it’s a literal description of The Cellist.
It is. I was working on the book, and I got a call from my wife. She said, “Turn on the TV.” I did, and I saw our capital being overrun. I write about national security issues, and I’m not an intelligence officer but I have to think like one when I’m writing. I have to imagine current and future threats to our country. Twenty years after 9/11, and all the trillions of dollars spent to make our homeland safe, to see our capital overrun by our own people was really awful. I knew I had to write about it.
How did you work it in?
It wasn’t easy. I had to rewrite most of the book in six weeks.
You also included QAnon.
I did. I talked to several analysts who said that QAnon was going to fade away after President Trump left office. I didn’t think so, but I didn’t want to include the group if they were going to be irrelevant by the time the book was published. Finally, I decided to include QAnon. I’ll tell you why: QAnon is not a conspiracy theory. It is a violent, extremist ideology. It revels in violence. It was an accelerant of the Capital siege. It is, in my opinion, repackaged and repurposed anti-Semitism. It’s very dangerous stuff.
Is The Cellist a warning for us?
It is. It’s a stark warning, in the most urgent way, that Western democracy is under attack. There are organized forces pulling it apart. I make no bones about it. I say in the book, “Our divisions are real. The stresses on our society are real. And they are being exacerbated every single day by Russia.” What I explore in the book is how Vladimir Putin, back in 2000, wanted to wage war on the West, and wanted to use money to do it. Russian money is rotting our democracy right under our noses. It’s weakening our institutions.
July 12. $28.99. Online. 713-524-8597. More info and tickets at murderbooks.com.