Last August, Daniel Silva had nearly completed his twenty-second thriller featuring Gabriel Allon, director general of the Israeli secret intelligence service. Silva, whose books eerily echo (and many times, predict) world events, placed a prince from Saudi Arabia at the center of the plot. Like the real life Saudi Arabian monarch, Mohammad bin Salman (MBS), Silva’s fictional prince, Khalid bin Mohammed (KBM) was portrayed favorably, as a game changer in the Middle East, granting driving privileges to women, among other reforms.
Then, in October, Jamal Kashoggi, a Saudi Arabian dissident who was a columnist for the Washington Post, was brutally murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. By November, the CIA had concluded that MBS had ordered the journalist’s assassination. The world’s view of MBS quickly turned. Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on July 17, Silva said he threw the 250 pages in the trash can, locked himself in his office, and began to rewrite the book.
Any writer facing a deadline knows what Silva was up against. He not only needed to meet his deadline, but he was now attempting to “catch lightning in a bottle,” he said on Morning Joe. While writing, he also was talking with those at the White House and in Congress who were dealing with Kashoggi’s death and MBS’s involvement. The result is not only a page turner, but one that drops clues about what might have unfolded. Did Russia really have a role in Brexit, throwing Great Britain in chaos? We suspect that night be the case.
In The New Girl, Britain is still reeling from discovering that one of their top intelligence chiefs, Rebecca Manning, was actually the daughter of a Russian spy and had been embedded into British intelligence for decades, thus compromising many operations. Allon, like so many in the Middle East, is hoping that KBM will truly bring about change. Then Omar Mawwaf, a Saudi dissident and a columnist for Germany’s Der Spiegel, is killed, in circumstances similar to Kashoggi’s. What Allon doesn’t anticipate is a cry for help from KBM. The Saudi ruler’s daughter, Reema, enrolled in a private school in Switzerland, has been kidnapped. Rather than a ransom, the kidnappers demand that KBM abdicate. The crown prince wants Allon to find and save his daughter. Against his better judgment, Allon takes on the challenge, knowing that there is much at stake, not only the life of Reema, but, perhaps the future of the Middle East. Even though KBM is possibly a murderer, he is far better than the alternative – his uncle Abdullah bin Adulaziz Al Saud, who would like to return Saudi Arabia to the dark ages and create closer ties to Russia.
Back for repeat performances to help Allon are Mikhail Abramov, Christopher Keller, and a former CIA operative, Sarah Bancroft, who, from her position at the Museum of Modern Art, has helped the crown prince acquire a Leonardo, a painting that Allon believes is a fake.
The New Girl is not a fast read, not one you can finish in a day. And you won’t want to. There’s so much to digest in Silva’e plot – what’s fictional and what’s true – you will want to compare real events to fictional ones.
In the end, KBM comes across not as the perfect prince, but perhaps an improvement from what we’ve seen in the past. Whether the real crown prince fits that bill, is something that remains to be seen.
The New Girl
Bigstock Top illustration: Mohammad bin Salman Vector Portrait Caricature Drawing. Riyadh, December 4, 2018