Former executive producer of Crossifre Daniel Silva is the best-selling author of 18 thriller and espionage novels, 15 of which feature his popular protagonist Gabriel Allon. In his most recent novel, The English Spy, a former member of the British royal family is sunk on her yacht, and it is Allon’s job to track down her killer.
I sat down with Silva to discuss his work, the upcoming presidential election, terrorism, and more. Below are the highlights from our interview.
NB (me): You’re now number one on the New York Times’ best sellers list, how does that make you feel?
DANIEL SILVA: It’s beautiful news. I’ve been number one six times and it’s always exciting for me and for the people in my publishing house, the people who design the cover, who do the ad promotion, my publisher, my editor. It’s a lot of fun for everyone when you get to number one, so I’m very pleased by it.
NB: In your books, you speak about terrorism with such detail, and you do such unbelievable research. Did you ever anticipate a group like ISIS?
DS: Absolutely! And I anticipated Al Qaeda, as well. When I was a correspondent in Egypt I had an occasion to meet with Egyptian extremists who were a part of something that was about to become Al Qaeda. I saw it from the very beginning, so I was not surprised by the attacks of 9/11. I feared that something like this was going to come. I’ve been watching the situation closely for a very long time.
NB: So what’s to be done? How does one combat the monster that has become ISIS?
DS: Here’s the problem with ISIS, there’s no negotiating with them. What do they want from us? In the case of the IRA, for example, there was something to be traded. Even Al Qaeda wanted to drive us out of the Middle East, they wanted a certain, specific set of goals. What does ISIS want? How do you negotiate with them? How do you reach some sort of agreement or accommodation with them? You can’t. And I’m afraid that we have to go in there at some point and tear them out root and branch.
NB: As the former executive producer of CNN’s Crossfire and a novelist with a huge following, are you excited about any of the presidential candidates on either side?
DS: I think it’s a very interesting year to see this play out because obviously, you have a little bit of chaos on the Republican side. And you have the situation on the Democratic side where it looks like it might stumble on the way to a coronation.
NB: A stumble on the way to whose coronation?
DS: Well, it was going to be Secretary Clinton’s coronation but Senator Sanders is doing his best to interrupt that so it’s going to be very interesting to watch.
NB: Do you think Donald Trump is going for this seriously?
DS: Of course. I do think he’s going for it seriously. He’s already number two in the recent polls. He has a lot of money. He’s tapping into frustration in a certain segment of the electorate and it would be unwise to underestimate him.
ND: You have a son and daughter who are twins, and there are twins in The English Spy. Coincidence?
DS: Of course not. I think writers leave little bits and pieces of themselves with all their characters.
Nadia: I got asked this question when people found I was interviewing you — is Gabriel Allon your alter ego?
DS: No he’s not. I know that some writers have a vision of themselves as the action hero. I am not a nerdy, bookish guy — I am not someone who thinks of himself as an intelligence officer, professional assassin, or anything like that. He’s not my alter ego. And I frankly, sometimes I feel a little sorry for him. I wouldn’t want to do the kind of work that he does, actually.