Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Assume nothing

Author Daniel Silva is waiting for the right director, screenwriter and star before he lets his brooding, sexy, Israeli spy, Gabriel Allon, loose in a cinematic way. Allon has all the requirements of a film spook -- good-looking in a graying rugged sort of way, great in bed (although monogamous with his beautiful, younger second wife), handy with a weapon, durable, a tragic past and he's got a career on the side that lets us know that he's more than an assassin. (He restores paintings.) For the moment, we'll just have to live with Allon in print (and in our ears). It's a good thing there's almost a dozen of his books to cuddle up with.

I'm on number 8: Moscow Rules. It sets up pretty much the same as all the ones that went before: Gabriel retires to a villa in Umbria and begins work on a painting from the Vatican. (He's tight with the Pope's right-hand man.) His boss from the Office pays a visit to ask him to take a day to meet with a journalist in Rome. The journalist claims to have knowledge of a sale by a Russian arms dealer to Al-Qaeda. It all goes belly-up, the journalist dies in Gabriel's arms and he's reluctantly (natch) pulled into an operation to connect with the only other person who knows about the sale. He finds this person in Moscow (before he's hauled off for interrogation in Lubyanka Prison) and she tells him her source -- Elena, the wife of the arms dealer, Ivan Kharkov.

Gabriel concocts an elaborate meet involving a painting by Mary Cassatt (I always enjoy how his art background enables his spying), and convinces Elena to help them. We spend a few blissful days on the French Riviera before we're hauled back to Moscow for a violent, exciting -- if a little tired -- denouement. A bit of a deus ex machina shows up at the end to rescue everyone. That was a bit much!

Now, don't mistake me -- I enjoy these novels (I keep reading 'em.). Spy novels are not my usual cup of tea, but Gabriel's enough of a tortured hero that he remains interesting to me. They're formulaic, and this installment seemed particularly so. Could that be because I listened? I'm thinking yes. All the creakiness of the formula -- the dialogue reminding you of things that have gone before, the explanations of global politics, the trite descriptions of the glamorous locations and people -- lays baldly out there when someone is reading to you. When you read to yourself they are easy to gloss over. Not so much with audio.

I'd never listened to the narrator before, Phil Gigante. He has a deep, rich voice that he uses to great effect when voicing Gabriel's dialogue. Gabriel feels things deeply, but never loses his cool and this is evident in Gigante's characterization. This being an international spy novel, there are many, many characters speaking with various accents -- American, English, French, Russian, Israeli. As far as I could tell, everyone was consistently voiced, but ultimately it all sounded like a comedy act. The accents mostly sounded authentic to me (I'm really not a judge), but the Russians and Israelis began to blend together, and the French seemed off. The women were overly breathy and femmy and that -- coupled with their accents -- made them seem particularly caricatured. Only Gabriel comes across like a real person.

Gigante fares better in the novel's narrative portions. He speeds through the descriptions in his melodious voice and knows how to build tension when Gabriel finds himself in a sticky spot or two.

I like to try everything on audio at least once, but some things just don't work for me. It'll be back to the books for Gabriel Allon. I might try Gigante again, just in something a little less formulaic.

Evidently, there are real Moscow Rules, of which my post title is one. But can you believe what you find on the internet?

[Gabriel forges a copy of a Mary Cassatt in order to meet Elena Kharkov. It's probably not this Children Playing on the Beach hanging in the National Gallery, but the subject is similar. This image was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]

Moscow Rules (Gabriel Allon, Book 8) by Daniel Silva
Narrated by Phil Gigante
Brilliance Audio, 2008. 10:00

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