Popular fiction, best-selling novels, escape reading or whatever term you use to describe such books, it does not matter. Such reading is a waste of time. Reading fiction, unless it is fiction that has attainted the status of being classic, is a distraction.
For those reasons–time wasting, distractions–and others, I make it a point to not read more than 20 or 30 such novels a year. I call them my dessert reading. These are books that promise to be page turners. They might educate and illuminate, but their prime calling is to entertain. We can make the argument that all good literature is designed to entertain, to create joy. But Dostoevsky functions like a investment banker. He says, “Bring me a sizeable amount of intellectual cash and I will find you some beneficial dividends.” Dostoevsky, by the way, pays quite high dividends, but you have to have the means to make the initial investment.
Popular fiction is a give-away, a party, a place for freebies. The sign says, “Free fun, delight, entertainment.” I like investments, but I also like free. I teach mental investments all day long. I am telling my students to invest in history, in literature, in theology, and in thinking. After a day of brain market management, I enjoy sitting back and just receiving a fun dose of words and adventure.
Popular fiction often has its own rewards. One does learn about places, people, and ideas from even the lightest and trendiest of books. But that is like saying that you are eating chocolate cake because it has eggs in it and eggs provide protein. Or that you are eating ice cream for the calcium content. Just admit it, “I am eating this because it is good.”
Last night, I finished reading my fourteenth Daniel Silva novel. Titled The Heist, this is number 14 in a series about an art restorer named Gabriel Allon. I am tempted to say, “I read the books because they educate me about paintings and art restoration.” I am sure that Silva could have written one or two worthy novels about an art restorer, but Gabriel Allon is constantly interrupted from his restoration work.
The interruptions occur because the artistic beauty of this fallen world also needs restoration. Just as Allon meticulously removes damaged materials from paintings, he also meticulously removes damage from the world. Allon is a spy, a gunman, an agent of the Israeli intelligence service, which is usually referred to in the books as “The Office.” He is a patriot, a freedom fighter, a defender of Israel. To be such, he is often a killer.
Simply put, Gabriel Allon kills bad guys. Being that we are in a tangled world, where the black and white divide between bad and good is often hard to distinguish, Allon doesn’t have an easy task. But there are no limits or geographical boundaries to sin. Many of his targets are what we now call Islamic Extremists, Jihadists, or Radical Islamic terrorists. It might be a bit touchy in America to use such labels, but Allon and his nation deal with such threats often, both in fiction and in reality.
There is plenty of blame and evil to go around, without focusing totally on the Radical Islamic Terrorists. Allon’s work, investigations, spying operations, and killing fields involve his dealings with all manner of evil people. Some are former Nazis or Nazi sympathizers. These are a particular focus of Allon since his mother was the only member of her family to escape Nazi Germany alive. There is a bizarre world of connections between great art and the Nazi era. Prominent Nazis collected great art works, and usually “collected” means “stole.”
Russia abandoned Communism which was a blessing to the world, but it was not a spiritual revival or a turning from evil to good. Greed, money, and power motivates another large group of bad guys that Allon has to confront. Seventy years of KGB with its predecessor organization easily morphs into updated, ongoing ways of perpetrating evils within the confines of the former Soviet Union, which remains an Evil Empire. (Even in reality? Under Putin? Surely not! Note the heavy sarcasm.)
Swiss bankers protect evil men. Art thieves steal great works in order to fund themselves and promote evil. Shady politicians conspire to cover up misdeeds, and even the Vatican hides secrets.
The Gabriel Allon series is a series of pictures of the modern world, or at least some aspects of it. Granted, these works are fictional; the operations of the Israeli secret service are fantastic and often unbelievable; and Gabriel Allon seems to survive a series of mishaps that would have taken out anyone else.
While there are now 16 books in the series, a reader can begin anywhere. Saying that, it is better to read the earlier books. For one thing, it helps to establish the meta-narrative of Allon’s life and family background and the background of the recurring characters. In almost every book, there are brief recaps of Allon’s life and previous confrontations. These are good reminders for the long-time readers, and helpful connections for newer readers.
Reading the books in order also enables the reader to watch Silva’s skills as a writer of thriller, spy-espionage novels improve. Characters that were flat in earlier stories develop and grow as the stories progress. They become like old friends, and we–the readers–smile when they show up in each story.
I think I started reading this series about 3 years ago. I learned of Silva from George Grant, who placed Daniel Silva on his list of favorite living authors, alongside of writers like R. C. Sproul and Paul Johnson. I wondered if I would like Silva since I already shared a liking for so many of the same authors as Dr. Grant. That led to me starting to collect and read Silva’s book.
Popular fiction is easy to collect because many people read the books once and lightly and then pass them on. Most of the books I have were purchased in used book venues for a few dollars each. A couple of the earlier works are a bit harder to find. Thankfully, most books are only a few clicks away on the Internet.
I could have read the books at the rate of one or two or even three a month, but I usually spaced out the reading. The idea was to savor and enjoy them as long as possible. I really had to work to restrain myself once I got to about the third book. Here is the order of the novels. I actually began with The Prince of Fire, and it was a while later before I was able to acquire the earlier novels.
Now comes the sad part. I have finished all fourteen of the Allon series books I own. There are two more, but I have yet to acquire them. I will have to try to survive until these next two volumes–one of which is brand new–show up somewhere for a pittance.
The good news is that I have a few other books that can fill in the gaps until I am back with Gabriel Allon and his companions as he works on a piece of art restoration and the Israeli intelligence agency. There are still plenty of evil men and organizations needing a dose of Allon’s mixture of law and grace.
Post Script: Daniel Silva’s first novel about Gabriel Allon, The Kill Artist, was the fourth novel he wrote. The previous novels are seen below in reverse order of their publication.