Mark Kaufman

If I were more politically savvy, I'd use this review to address the aggressive pro-Israel/anti-Islam slant of The Messenger, Daniel Silva's wildly popular art-historical spy-versus-terrorist thriller. I might comment on the validity of statements like, "Take [America], for example. You were innocent, a shining beacon of freedom and decency. Now you have blood on your hands and men in secret prisons." I might question the easy thinking in passages such as, "They've seen our democracy, and they reject it... How do we deliver justice and prosperity to these men of Islam who believe only in death?" I might discuss Silva's condemnation of the Saudi billionaires who finance both anti-American terrorists and the American financial elite (here I'd probably describe Silva as alternately pragmatic and racist)—or point out his deliberate failure to distinguish between fundamentalism and regular old Islam. I might express bewilderment at Silva's appeal among the middle-American, Da Vinci Code–gobblin' masses who've kept his book on the New York Times hardcover-fiction bestseller list for five weeks and counting. And I might build the case that it's irresponsible (but comforting, surely) to reduce our current global emergency into a shitty novelization of a shitty spy movie that doesn't even (shittily) exist.

Well, sorry. All I can actually tell you about The Messenger is that, as a book, it fucking sucks, it was written in about 15 minutes, and (along with its eight identical brothers, also penned by Silva) it has probably made its author a multimillionaire. This novelist racket is a gold mine. To get me a piece of that sweet, sweet shitty-spy pie, I've narrowed down Silva's formula to five rules—rules so simple that literally anyone will be able write the next The Messenger. We're gonna be rrrrich!

1. A spy can never have too many skillz. Gabriel Allon, grim antihero of The Messenger, works for Israeli intelligence. That means he speaks all the world's languages and can "get a Beretta off his hip and into firing position in the time it takes most men to clap their hands." Holy shit! Gabriel's also the World's Best Art Restorer—but when he's not re-creating the brushstrokes of the Old Masters all over town, he's busy writing "with equal speed with either hand." Also, dogs can read his mind. Is that enough skillz for you?

2. Chins and titties. It's important to describe (over and over) how your characters look. Sounds like a lot of work, right? Wrong! For the males, it's all about the chins. Does his "square chin" have a "deep notch in the center"? Is his face "narrow at the chin"? Perhaps the "stubborn set of his jaw revealed that he was a dangerous man to cross," or you noticed "the muscles of his jaw alternatively clenching and unclenching." When women are around, describe their boobs (Silva prefers them "heavy," "suntanned," and "generous").

3. Keep secrets! One cool thing to do—if you don't want to reveal your whole hand to the reader but you also don't want to put actual work into structuring your story—is to just say something like "then [Gabriel] explained how he planned to penetrate Jihad Incorporated." Silva uses this one all the time.

4. Say some ridiculous shit. If you don't know how to write, don't worry. Did you know that there is not a single elegantly constructed sentence in all of The Messenger? To sound fancy, just throw in some old-timey language. Like this: "[H]e marked the passage of time not by the Jewish festivals but by the rhythms of the land—the day the rains came, the day the wildflowers exploded in the Galilee, the day the cool winds returned." Or this: "He saw a skinny black-haired boy with eyes as green as emeralds chasing lightning in the hills above Nazareth." What the fuck does that mean? Doesn't matter. It sounds awesome.

5. 9/11. I'm telling you, this shit sells books.

And there you have it: How to write The Messenger by Daniel Silva in five easy steps. If I'm not a bestselling author by the end of 2006, then, to quote Silva, "the terrorists have won." No seriously, he actually wrote that.