In The Black Widow, Daniel Silva brings back the hero of several previous thrillers—the Israeli superspy-cum-art restorer Gabriel Allon, who vanquishes enemies and wins women with equal ease—to do battle against Islamic State, which, at the novel’s beginning, bombs a French conference on anti-Semitism. While Adam Kirsch deems the book satisfyingly thrilling, with plot twists, excitement, and suspense, he finds unsettling its perceptiveness about present-day reality:
The Black Widow . . . converge[s] with reality in ways that threaten the escapist pleasures it is supposed to offer. In an author’s note, Silva indicates that he finished The Black Widow after the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher massacres of January 2015. But the book must have been written before the even deadlier attacks in Paris last November, and in Brussels in March of this year, and the Orlando nightclub shooting this summer. In other words, Silva’s fictional IS bombing was preceded and followed by a string of real-life IS atrocities, some directed against Jews, others against gays, still others against random Europeans and Americans
The intensely present reality of IS terrorism means that Silva’s fictional treatment of it has a difficult choice to make. The thriller form strongly pushes for a happy ending: somehow, we want and expect Gabriel Allon to track down [the perpetrator], thwart the next bombing, and put an end to the IS threat. As readers, we want to suspend our disbelief. But how can we, in the face of daily headlines that bring more and more violence? . . . How can a fictional hero conquer an actual threat?