The Other Woman by Daniel Silva: Review

Title: The Other Woman

Author: Daniel Silva

Publisher: HarperCollins

Pages: 476

Price: Rs 240

The Twitter review of author Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman would be: “It’s a brilliant espionage novel with all the usual elements of double agents, defections, paranoia, modern-day surveillance and plot twists.”

And if that is all you are looking for then go right ahead and stop reading this piece right now. But if you are interested in knowing more, read on. But before discussing The Other Woman, it is important to first take a few lessons.

History lesson: Do you know who are the Cambridge Five? The Cambridge Five was a ring of spies in the United Kingdom, who passed information to the Soviet Union during the World War II and the Cold War. None were ever prosecuted for spying. The five were Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross. Of these, Philby has become Britain’s most famous communist double-agent.

Lesson on Current Scenario: The Cold War officially ended in 1989, but like World War II, there is now Cold War II and it is getting worse. Moscow has named a square after Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963, near the headquarters of SVR — Russia’s foreign intelligence service. The move comes at a time when relations between the UK and Russia are at a new low.

Silva, who was a journalist before becoming a novelist, understands the changing geo-political situation and thus set the 18th outing of his spymaster Garbiel Allon, Israeli art restorer and spy, in this backdrop.

As Silva says in the novel, “In the post-Soviet era, the KGB was disbanded, renamed, reorganized, and renamed again. Eventually, the basic elements of the old organization were split into two new services: the FSB and the SVR. The FSB handled domestic security and counterintelligence, and took over the KGB’s old central headquarters in Lubyanka Square. The SVR became Russia’s new foreign intelligence service. Headquartered in Yasenevo, it was essentially the old First Chief Directorate of the KGB with a new name.”

So you see nothing has changed, except maybe Silva’s latest being more John le Carre than Frederick Forsyth or Robert Ludlum. It isn’t a fast-paced page turner, but takes time to build up and then delivers the twist.

It is only in the middle of the book that one understands that Philby is manipulating from beyond the grave and understandably Allon is the only one who can defeat Philby and Russia’s machinations and uncover Kremlin’s highest-placed mole.

Philby has been the focus of so many authors recently that it can be a completely separate canon. But the unique way in which Silva incorporates real-life Philby into his fiction sets him apart. The ‘other woman’ usually conjures up images of a mistress, but Silva flips the idea on its head here.

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