Daniel Silva Photo: From Reader's Digest
Moscow Rules is Daniel Silva’s eleventh novel and the eighth featuring spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon. Below are extracts from a conversation with the author, taken from his website.
RD: What are the Moscow Rules? Are they real?
DS: They are real, and every intelligence officer and spy knows them. During the Cold War, Moscow was the toughest, most dangerous city in the world to work in, so the CIA created a set of operating principles. I tried to find an official list, but I discovered that the Agency never wrote them down. Some of the rules are chilling: ‘Assume everyone you meet is under opposition control.’ ‘Assume every telephone is tapped and every room is bugged.’ Some are hysterical: ‘Murphy was right.’ ‘Technology will always let you down.’ My personal favourite is: ‘Don’t look back. You are never completely alone.’ That rule serves as the epigraph of the novel.
RD: Your thrillers take place all over the world, but this is the first time you’ve chosen to set a book in Russia. Why now?
DS: Russia has been calling me for a long time. I grew up reading the classic novels of Cold War espionage and I studied Russian history and Soviet foreign policy. By the time I started writing novels, the Cold War was over and I’d always enjoyed the challenge of trying to catch history in the act. I knew enough about Russian history to bide my time. I told myself that, eventually, Russia would find a new tsar and challenge us again. The new tsar turned out to be Vladimir Putin, and his critics were soon dying under mysterious and violent circumstances. When Aleksandr Litvinenko was murdered in London in 2006 with a lethal dose of polonium-210, it was time for Gabriel Allon to go to Russia.
RD: You spent last summer in Moscow. What did you find?
DS: I absolutely fell in love with Moscow. It’s one of those places where you can’t help but trip over history at every turn. It’s a city of enormous contradictions. Within a few yards of Lenin’s Tomb is some of the most expensive shopping in the world. Every night, we watched Russian millionaires making deals in the bar of our hotel. They dressed in the latest designer clothing, spoke fluent English, and were surrounded by bodyguards. Needless to say, I found it the perfect setting for a thriller.
RD: The action in Moscow Rules moves from Moscow to Italy, Israel, the Alps, the French Riviera and London. Did you spend time in those places, too?
DS: Yes. That’s the best part of my job. For example, at the start of the story, Gabriel is staying at an isolated cattle farm in Umbria. My family and I were lucky enough to stay on a farm just like it. I also spent a great deal of time chasing rich Russians around Western Europe, trying to get a glimpse of the way they’re spending their money, and they’re spending an enormous amount of it. In Courchevel, I visited a restaurant where the manager told me about a group of Russians who had just spent 300,000 euros for lunch. That’s about a half million dollars. For lunch!
RD: You managed to get inside Lubyanka, the infamous former home of the KGB and current headquarters of its successor, the FSB. How did you get in, and what was it like?
DS: The truth is, I am still not sure how we got in, but it was the experience of a lifetime. We put in a request and waited. Finally, we were ordered to present ourselves at a side door of FSB headquarters, early on a Sunday morning. Waiting inside was a fit-looking colonel in his late fifties. He had a nice smile. He spoke only Russian, so our guide provided simultaneous translation. We followed him through darkened corridors and up darkened staircases. We didn’t get to visit the notorious holding cells of Lubyanka, where poor Gabriel ends up in the story, but it was fascinating.
RD: Your story deals with the dangers faced by Russian journalists. Were you able to talk to Russian reporters for your research?
DS: I did, actually, and they were incredibly helpful. I was deeply moved by their courage and dedication. Russia is an extremely dangerous place to be a journalist. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, forty-seven reporters, editors, cameramen and photographers have been killed in Russia since 1992. Fourteen of those deaths occurred during Putin’s presidency. Very few have been solved or prosecuted. I met a reporter who literally broke down in tears as he described the murder of his friend. It affected me deeply and had a profound impact on the book.
Q: Your last book was No 2 on the New York Times bestseller list, your highest ranking ever. Each one of your novels has been more successful than its predecessor. Why do you think Gabriel Allon has caught on the way he has?
A: No one is more surprised by the success of Gabriel and the series than I am. He really seems to have struck a chord with readers. There is no one else quite like him on the literary landscape: an Israeli assassin who also happens to be one of the world’s finest art restorers and who lives in Italy under an assumed identity. He’s not someone you’d actually like to spend a lot of time with for he’s not the friendliest person. But he’s incredibly gifted and very smart and he’s by no means a gun-slinging, kill-all-the-bad-guys kind of superhero. He knows what it means to lose loved ones.
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