Lead character Gabriel Allon has been praised as having joined the pantheon of great fictional secret agents, including George Smiley (le Carré), Jack Ryan (Clancy), Jason Bourne (Ludlum), and Simon Templar (Charteris). Since I am a fan of all these superstars of the espionage genre (I read the Simon Templar books long before Val Kilmer starred in the movie!) I think Gabriel Allon reightly deserves the kudos.
Now, let's take a peak at the newest in paperback from Daniel Silva with the superstar spy, Gabriel Allon.
Copyright: February 2015 (Harper) 512 pgs
Series: 14th in Gabriel Allon Spy series
Sensuality: some violence referenced, occasional cursing
Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller
Main Characters: Gabriel Allon, art restorer, assassin, and Israeli spy legend
Setting: Modern day: Corsica, Germany, London, Geneva
Obtained Through: Personal purchase
We join Gabriel in Venice restoring/repairing an altarpiece in a church when he is visited be the Italian police. His art dealer friend, Julian Isherwood, who has assisted Gabriel on several espionage operations, bumbled onto a murder scene and is a suspect. The Italian policeman sees this as leverage to secure Gabriel's legendary talents to recover a famous Caravaggio painting stolen in 1969 since the murdered man, Jack Bradshaw, had ties to the black market world of trafficking stolen masterpieces and was rumored to have sold the infamous Caravaggio. Gabriel devises a sting operation that requires stealing a famous painting to lure the Caravaggio's owner out. But in following the trail of who murdered Bradshaw, he discovers that not only was Bradshaw a fallen spy trafficking stolen artwork but he had discovered one of the world’s most brutal dictators' private banker hiding billions in assets on behalf of the vicious ruler.
Ultimately the Heist Gabriel orchestrates will blow up into a full operation to strip a dictator of his ill-gotten fortune to prevent untold further violence being funded with the money. It is a dangerous gambit that pulls even the current Israeli Secret Service Director's wife into the operation. Subplots revolve around 1) Gabriel and Chiara expecting twins and 2) Gabriel shortly becoming the next head of Israeli Intelligence and the internal politics / hurt egos that has created.
This fact was presented in the book and I wanted to share it with you because it is under reported, but true.
"Each year thousands of paintings and other objets d'art went missing from museums, galleries, public institutions, and private homes. Estimates of their value ranged as high as $6 billion, making art crime the fourth most lucrative illicit activity in the world, behind only drug trafficking, money laundering, and arms dealing."
Gabriel (who I think of as the assassin with an artist's soul) is facing being a father again and finally resolving his emotions over the bomb that killed his son and left his first wife Leah in a mental hospital. He isn't happy about his upcoming job promotion, as he would rather retire from the "Office" and devote himself to art. Chiara, the refreshing second wife, only has a few scenes because she is focusing on a safe pregnancy and helping Gabriel emotionally. I love her character and she deserves the rest :-) Ari Shamron, the first Israeli Intelligence Director, who also recruited and shaped Gabriel, has a few cameo appearances, bringing to the forefront how he views Gabriel as the son he never had. This may be the last book he is alive in. Uzi Navot, the outgoing Israeli Intelligence Director that Gabriel will be replacing in about a year, steps from behind the desk and becomes more involved with this epic operation.
Eli Lavon and the old team (Bella Navot, Mikhail Abramov, Dina Sarid, Rimona Stern, Yossi Gavish, Yaakov Rossman, Mordecai, and Oded) are reunited. Dina stands out in this story as she takes the lead to recruit a key person in the field. Christopher Keller, former British Special Air Service agent who is now an assassin for a Corsican mobster joins forces with Gabriel again. He gains a touch of humanity the more Gabriel works with him. Viktor Orlov, a prior Russian Oligarch from past books (The Defector, and The English Girl) is even enlisted for the elaborate operation. His character is just slightly over-the-top but adds a great touch. Jihan Nawaz, the account manager at the dictator's private bank, is recruited by Dina. Jihan is a haunting character deftly crafted that sticks in the mind. Gabriel risks much to keep her alive as she caries out dangerous intelligence gathering.
The setting is in several international locations throughout the book, but the opening scenes at Lake Como of Jack Bradford's estate and scene of his torture and murder to the town of Linz Austria and the lakeside Villa on Attersee, and all points between are woven into the story completely. The descriptions effective evoke each place and become inseparable from the plot.
The plot grabbed my interest and seemed plausible, perhaps a bit too believable if possible. There are essentially two plots that are tied together: the art heist to get the long lost Caravaggio painting that leads to the elaborate operation to strip an extremely brutal dictator's safely guarded fortune that is hidden to protect against retaliation from his own nation or the world community. I know that many think of a thriller as non-stop action, and some are like that. Silva's thrillers aren't just action, they contain insightful characters and moving scenes as well, providing a full package deal. Thus the pacing balances the tense clandestine scenes with more introspective moments that work well and are Mr. Silva's signature style.
The climax was perhaps the only story element that I wasn't completely happy about. Although it did accomplish showing the man Gabriel is and the kind of Israeli Intelligence Director he will be, and it was likely more true-to-life than most endings, I still wanted the more expected resolution. It was tense and nail biting, just not the end I was routing for. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, so that is vague by necessity. The wrap-up delivered a quite touching scene that I wasn't expecting. Another hallmark of Silva's work, delivering understated but emotionally powerful moments.
Mr. Silva has honed his craft and this work contains a few layers to the plot and more so to the characters. Perhaps without the intention, he has set the bar for a tightly woven espionage plot balanced with nuanced characters and thought-provoking themes. Kudos and hats off.
Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list
Here is a short interview with the author discussing the book https://www.youtube.com/embed/HWeOedJhbRw
Here is a short piece on Caravaggio as the painter. The first couple of minutes are the crux of who he was (the scandalous painter.) https://www.youtube.com/embed/6d8-fXWoL7k
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