A briskly paced, richly atmospheric historical thriller.

M, KING'S BODYGUARD

In 1901, as the crowned heads of Europe arrive in London for Queen Victoria’s funeral, a Scotland Yard detective assigned to protect the new king, Edward VII, must outwit a foreign assassin whose target may in fact be Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany.

This lively and assured historical drama opens as the reign of “tiny, and shrewd” Queen Victoria is replaced by that of her libidinous son, Albert, aka Edward VII, whose bodyguard, William Melville, is the novel’s world-weary narrator. “A Catholic peasant promoted far above his station,” as he jokingly puts it, Melville has risen to Detective Chief Superintendent “through tenacity, low cunning and [his] own clumping fists.” Irish by birth and suspicious by nature, he knows that the imminent royal funeral procession, as it winds through London, will become, “for terrorists...one long shooting gallery, with every prize a jackpot.” European anarchists are Melville’s main suspects (“how I despised these fanatics”), and, sure enough, villainous zealots promptly materialize, leading Melville on a merry chase, though he quickly sniffs out the existence of a murderous plot far more labyrinthine than one prompted by pure ideology. “Politics is a stately dance with poisoned daggers,” he observes, as he begins to doubt even his German sidekick, Gustav Steinhauer, who is the kaiser’s master spy and therefore on the right side. Or is he? Both Melville and Steinhauer, along with many other characters, are based on historical personages, and their portraits—along with that of stinking, foggy London—are finely drawn. The narrative pace never flags, and even the obligatory scenes of shootouts, explosions, and hurtling locomotives are refreshingly vivid. The novel’s quieter moments are, however, its best, and none is better than its final twist. “Let’s just say I work with certain people who share your concerns about developments on the Continent,” an aristocratic stranger says, inviting Melville for a chat at his club. “We could use a man of your experience.” So the next installment has surely begun.

A briskly paced, richly atmospheric historical thriller.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4905-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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As attuned as always to current geopolitical concerns, but substantially less compelling than Silva's previous novels.

THE CELLIST

Gabriel Allon goes after the deadliest weapon at the Russian president’s disposal—his money.

When CIA agent–turned–art dealer Sarah Bancroft finds the dead body of Viktor Orlov, a wealthy newspaper publisher and Russian dissident, the grim discovery leads Gabriel Allon, the head of Israel’s intelligence service, to a treasure trove of documents detailing massive financial crimes. Once he tracks down the woman who leaked these documents, Gabriel may finally have the tools he needs to take down the autocrat in the Kremlin. “A nuclear bomb can only be dropped once. But money can be wielded every day with no fallout and no threat of mutually assured destruction.” This bit of wisdom comes from a Russian operative Gabriel captured in The Other Woman (2018), and Silva makes a persuasive case that the best way to neutralize the threat of troll farms and disinformation campaigns is to starve these operations of cash. But this is a thriller, not an essay in Foreign Policy. It turns out that money laundering isn’t inherently exciting, and Silva does little to make it so. Identifying the shadowy figure who manages the Russian president’s fortune is easy, as is infiltrating his world. All the characters in this universe are types, but most of them are crafted with verisimilitude sufficient to keep the reader engaged. The titular cellist, Isabel Brenner, is a beautiful blond blank. It’s not at all clear why she makes the transition from functionary at a dirty bank to amateur spy willing to risk her life to ruin oligarchs. In previous novels, Silva wove in chapters written from the points of view of the bad guys. This technique creates dramatic irony, and it has given us some truly terrific villains—horrifying sadists and gleeful monsters of corruption who make excellent foils for the nearly superhuman Gabriel. Past installments have also given Gabriel's team more to do, and it’s impossible not to miss them and their spycraft.

As attuned as always to current geopolitical concerns, but substantially less compelling than Silva's previous novels.

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-283486-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

THE MAIDENS

A blend of psychological mystery and gothic thriller puts a psychotherapist in pursuit of a serial killer on the campus of Cambridge University.

The author’s second novel features a psychotherapist as its main character, as did his 2019 debut, The Silent Patient (whose main character makes an appearance here). This book’s protagonist is Mariana, who has a busy practice in London specializing in group therapy. At 36, she’s a widow, reeling from the drowning a year before of her beloved husband, Sebastian. She’s galvanized out of her fog by a call from her niece, Zoe, who was raised by Mariana and Sebastian after her parents died. Zoe is now studying at Cambridge, where Mariana and Sebastian met and courted. Zoe has terrible news: Her close friend Tara has been murdered, savagely stabbed and dumped in a wood. Mariana heads for Cambridge and, when the police arrest someone she thinks is innocent, starts her own investigation. She zeroes in on Edward Fosca, a handsome, charismatic classics professor who has a cultlike following of beautiful female students (which included Tara) called the Maidens, a reference to the cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, whose followers worshipped Demeter and Persephone. Suspicious characters seem to be around every ivy-covered corner of the campus, though—an audacious young man Mariana meets on the train, one of her patients who has turned stalker, a porter at one of the college’s venerable houses, even the surly police inspector. The book gets off to a slow start, front-loaded with backstories and a Cambridge travelogue, but then picks up the pace and piles up the bodies. With its ambience of ritualistic murders, ancient myths, and the venerable college, the story is a gothic thriller despite its contemporary setting. That makes Mariana tough to get on board with—she behaves less like a modern professional woman than a 19th-century gothic heroine, a clueless woman who can be counted on in any situation to make the worst possible choice. And the book’s ending, while surprising, also feels unearned, like a bolt from the blue hurled by some demigod.

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30445-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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