After the Prime Minister receives blackmail about his affair with Madeleine, Gabriel Allon is contacted in order to manage the hostage situation. He has seven days to find the girl. Allon tries hard but the girl dies before he can save her. So ends the first section of the book.
The entire hunt for the hostage could have been its own book but Silva takes the story further. Allon had been able to see the girl briefly and promised to safely see her home. Since he failed, he is determined to find out who kidnapped Madeline in order to blackmail the Prime Minister. This takes him down a rabbit hole of deceit and political dealings over oil off the British coast and leads to Russia. Someone inside the Prime Minister’s office has been helping the Russian government expand its oil empire. Allon’s goal expands to proving that the Russians, in a sense, stole the British oil and he’ll get it back.
The English girl is a mere pawn in a much larger, international game. Entering the game is an especially interesting part of the novel. A crew is pulled together which includes Allon’s wife, also a spy of sorts. They devise a plan to infiltrate the Russian oil scheme through a Russian defector’s company. The bait is taken and the crew heads to Russia. It turns out that an elusive Russian company man is the mystery man from the French café. Allon closes the circle.
The English Girl is an immensely satisfying thriller. The pages practically turn themselves. The only thing I had to take for granted was that Allon would want to dig more into the girl’s death. The story could have ended there. Possibly other books have fleshed out Allon’s character even more that this decision would feel natural. It wasn’t completely unnatural in The English Girl, just surprising. Once past that point, the book continued propelling forward.
There is a bit of a twist at the end that wasn’t completely surprising. This is where I’ll spoil the end. The English girl is found in Russia. Madeline is actually a Russian who was taken to England as a young child and for all intents and purposes in an English girl. She barely remembers Russians and even feels English. However, she was taking orders the entire time, getting into government, sleeping with the PM. When they were ready to pull her, Madeline didn’t want to go. She liked her life. The kidnapping happened anyway. My confusion at her story is that she gets to go back to England and not go to jail. While not exactly a traitor, she was an agent for the Russian government. Why would England take her back?
And then the book has a saccharine set of final pages. Allon and his wife go to Corsica for a vacation and his wife meets the old woman in the village who had previously read Allon’s future. She foresees twins. I guess that’s a nice ending? Maybe other books in the series dipped into the concept of Allon having children with his second wife. I wouldn’t know. It seemed a bit out of nowhere and an extremely sweet way to end a tense and treacherous thriller. Although I suppose even a spy gets to have a family if he wants.
It is a credit to the author that I didn’t realize until after the fact that The English Girl is number thirteen in a series. I easily slipped into the thriller without knowing that Gabriel Allon, art restorer, spy and assassin, had appeared in twelve previous books. There are plenty of references to Allon’s past but they aren’t confusing. The hints at, and sometimes outright stories of, his past deepen Allon’s identity without detracting from the story at hand, which is about an English girl.
Madeline Hart disappears while on vacation in France in a motor accident. Her friends recall seeing her with a man at a café, which intrigued them as they all suspected she was seeing someone she refused to name. The police investigate but cannot identify the man at the café. Back in England, Madeline’s disappearance is in the papers as she was a rising star in the governing party.