(Jump over to read a review of The Rembrandt Affair)
(Jump down to read a review of The Prince of Fire)
(Jump down to read a review of A Death in Vienna)
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple Jul 23, 2008)
“In the minds of the New Russians, the murderous crimes of the Bolsheviks were but a way station on the road to an era of Russian greatness. The gulags, the cruelty, the untold millions who were starved to death or “repressed”—they were only unpleasant details. No one had ever been called to account for his actions. No one was ever punished for his sins….[In the nineties] we went from superpower to basket case overnight lurching from the ideology of Lenin to the ideology of Mussolini [and fascism] in a decade.”
In his eighth Gabriel Allon espionage thriller, Daniel Silva moves from investigating the historical crimes of the past, often related to the Holocaust, and their effects on the present, to crimes of the present and their possibly catastrophic effects on the future. As seen in this intense and absorbing study of uncontrolled arms sales, the biggest threat to the future comes from Russian arms dealers, aided by Russia’s president and former KGB operatives who are now unimaginably wealthy independent brokers and contractors. European and American security services operate independently of each other (and have their own political agendas), so no comprehensive international oversight exists. Meanwhile, the rogue arms merchants operate with impunity, selling missiles, tanks, antiaircraft weapons, attack helicopters, and millions of guns and bullets to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and Africa.
Gabriel Allon, formerly with the Israeli Mossad, and an assassin of the terrorists who killed the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, has just married his long-time love Chiara and is on his honeymoon in Italy when he is contacted by Ari Shamron, the grand old man of Israeli security. Allon, a trained art restorer, has been working to clean and repair a masterpiece belonging to the Holy Father, but the recent assassination of a Russian journalist who may have had information he wanted to reveal to the West brings him out of retirement and back into action as part of the Israeli security service. Allon’s meeting with the murdered man’s Russian editor-in-chief is cancelled when the man is murdered and dies in Allon’s arms in St. Peter’s Basilica, never revealing the information he had intended to share.
Allon’s trip to Russia as a representative to a UNESCO conference brings him into contact with Olga Sukhova, one of Russia’s best known and most controversial investigative journalists, a woman who works for the same magazine as the two assassinated journalists. She is constantly under surveillance, and an immediate danger to the powers that be in Moscow. She secretly gives him the name of a Russian arms dealer, Ivan Kharkov, with the highest possible connections to the government in Moscow, who has been supplying Hezbollah, and who now appears close to selling sophisticated weapons to al-Quaeda through third parties in Africa. Only by obtaining inside information can this sale be stopped, but with the tightest security imaginable, Kharkov seems completely impervious to attack from the inside.
Because Kharkov and his wife are known to be collectors of Mary Cassatt paintings, the fascinating art world which has added so much life to other Gabriel Allon thrillers in the past is also a major aspect of this novel. Art dealers, down-in-their-luck gentry who must sell their prized artwork, collectors, and, in the case, of Allon, restorers, all play unexpectedly major roles in this effort to get through to Kharkov and prevent him from selling advanced weaponry to al-Quaeda. The British and the Americans join with the Israelis in their sophisticated intelligence-gathering, and, because Kharkov is so often at his palatial estate in France, they reluctantly add French security to the operation, though that comes with a price.
As the high-stakes plotting by the conjoined security services builds to a crescendo, Allon follows the action through England, France, Italy, and Russia, leaving multiple murders, beatings, torture, car crashes, and betrayals in his wake. Always, the fine hand of the Russian mafia is pulling the strings, purportedly with the aid of the Russian president. “Money controls our lives. And the pursuit of money prevents us from questioning the actions of our so-called democratic government,” one character admits. Those in power simply do not care how the weapons they sell will be used.
Silva keeps the action moving briskly, despite the fact that it takes place in a variety of cities, and his ability to convey the atmosphere of these disparate locations adds depth and drama to the plot. Moscow is so fully realized that it feels like real Moscow, not a cardboard set, and the French Riviera, with all its high style, feels like the international play station that it is. The characters, even the minor ones, are paradigms of the countries they represent, imbued with the cultures of their homelands, rather than mere stereotypes. His major characters are complex and carefully drawn, and the action and underlying themes of the novel are intelligent and thought-provoking.
As always, Silva creates a complex and exciting story, but this time the focus is on contemporary politics, rather than on the past. Providing the evidence that future catastrophes are shockingly easy to inspire, given the venal nature of unscrupulous international arms dealers, Silva employs his formidable talents to create a terrifying picture of a cynical world—and a warning for the future.
- Amazon readers rating: from 185 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Moscow Rules at MostlyFiction.com(back to top)
"The Prince of Fire"
(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAR 27, 2005)
"Engaging the terrorist on his terms, on his battlefield, comes at a terrible price. It changes the men who do it, along with the society that dispatches them. It is the terrorist's ultimate weapon. For Gabriel, the changes were visible as well. By the time he'd staggered into Paris for his next assignment, his temples were gray."
In his fourth novel-adventure, art restorer Gabriel Allon, working on a Bellini altarpiece in Venice under the pseudonym of Mario Delvecchio, is recalled to action by the Israeli intelligence service for which he once worked. A massive truck bomb at the Israeli embassy in Rome and the shootings of fleeing victims by four assassins, has left fifty-two dead and dozens injured. Working with the Italian police, the Israelis obtain a computer disk from a house outside of Milan, thought to have been occupied by one of the terrorists. On the disk are recent photos of Gabriel Allon and his lover, notations about his real identity, and the date he was recruited by the Israeli intelligence service.
Ominously, the dossier also details Gabriel Allon's earlier killing of eight members of Black September, along with his assassination of Khalil el-Wazir, known as Abu Jihad, the PLO's second in command. A terse note by the terrorists indicates that Allon's "wife and son [were] killed by car bomb, Vienna, 1991. Reprisal ordered by Abu Amar," more familiarly known as Yassir Arafat. With the terrorists singling out Allon for "special attention" and his cover blown, Allon has no choice but to leave Venice and return to action with the intelligence service.
Believing the Rome bombing to be connected to the bombings of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994 and the bombing of Istanbul's main synagogue in 2003, Allon and his mentor, Ari Shamron, an advisor to the prime minister of Israel, soon focus on three generations of a single family. Asad al-Khalifa, known as Sheikh Asad, was a Palestinian warlord and leader of the Arab Revolt in 1936, a man who unleashed deadly attacks all over Israel and who, along with other Arab leaders, supported Adolf Eichmann's plan to exterminate the Jews in the Holocaust. Following the war, and Sheikh Asad's continued attacks on the newly established country of Israel, a then-young Ari Shamron was assigned to assassinate him by Israeli security's deputy commander Yitzhak Rabin.
The Sheik's son, Sabri, a friend of Yassir Arafat, accepted his father's terrorist mantle upon the sheik's death and joined Fatah, until Gabriel Allon successfully eliminated him, leaving Sabri's son Khaled an orphan. The young Khaled was adopted by Yassir Arafat, and both Ari Shamron and Gabriel Allon believe that he is behind the recent spate of bombings of Jewish buildings around the world. It is Gabriel's job to find and kill him.
Those who are fans of this series will recognize the main characters from the past, both in Allon's personal life and in his life as a member of the Israeli security apparatus. These familiar "faces" and the numerous references to Allon's past adventures add depth and important historical background to this novel. Readers new to the series will find that these past references are completely explained so that the relationships of characters and their interconnections are clear, as Allon and Shamron try to find Khaled and prevent another attack, this time in France.
Silva is a particularly efficient novelist, writing in a style which speeds along the action and keeps the tension high at the same time that it explores contemporary issues. He is a master at juggling numerous subplots and developing his characters, especially his flawed main character, Gabriel Allon. By including real people, such as Itzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat, in the plot, he gives an immediacy to the action, and his background information on the continuing war between the Arabs and Jews for the land in Palestine gives a sense of context to this long-standing enmity.
Though Silva is clearly on the side of the Israelis and blames the Arabs for repeatedly refusing to accept peace overtures and to honor treaties, he is also sensitive to the agony of Palestinians who have lost land they believe is historically theirs. His criticism of some current Israeli policies, such as the "security wall" being built, which hurts law-abiding Palestinians who have jobs in Israel, is balanced by his recognition that until the government of Palestine can control extremists, Israel will have to take extreme measures to protect itself.
The story is exciting and beautifully paced, and it raises issues which give the reader a glimpse into life in contemporary Israel and the historic reasons for the violence there on both sides. Though Silva has stated that he sees this novel as the end of the Gabriel Allon series, he leaves enough open ends that he could easily bring Allon back for another adventure, and unless the violence there stops, he may just have to do so.
- Amazon readers rating: from 151 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Prince of Fire at Penguin Group(back to top)
"A Death in Vienna"
(reviewed by Mary Whipple APR 04, 2004)
"For ten years we had lived under Hitler's thumb. We had suffered the Nuremberg Laws. We had lived the nightmare of Kristallnacht. We had watched our synagogues burn. Even so, I was not prepared for the sight that greeted me when the bolts slid back and the doors were finally thrown open. There was a towering, tapered red brick chimney..Auschwitz. I knew then that I had arrived in hell."
These words, part of the testimony of Gabriel Allon's mother, on file at Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the six million who died as part of the Holocaust, reflect the underpinnings of this intense and fast-paced novel. Not really a "thriller" with a Holocaust theme, it is a more a vehicle through which author Daniel Silva can draw new attention to the collusions of governments and institutions with the Reich in the years leading up to World War II and its aftermath.
Gabriel Allon, the main character, is working in Venice under the pseudonym of Mario Delvecchio, a fine art restorer, cleaning and repairing Giovanni Bellini's last altarpiece. Allon, who has appeared in two previous novels by Silva, is really a member of the Israeli secret service, under whose aegis he has secretly killed six of the assassins of the Munich Olympics. A protégé of Ari Shamron, the man who apprehended Adolf Eichmann and who is regarded in Israel as "the [security] service made flesh," Allon investigated Nazi art looting and the involvement of Swiss banks, in Silva's The English Assassin, and the role of the Vatican and Pope Pius XII in The Confessor. Having lost his son in a retaliatory bombing which has left his wife institutionalized and mute for the past thirteen years, Allon is suddenly summoned by Shamron to investigate the bombing in Vienna of the Office of Wartime Claims and Inquiries, which has killed two young women and left a long-time member of the secret service, Eli Lavon, comatose.
Although the Austrian government has publicly announced that the bomb was the work of The Islamic Fighting Cells, Allon believes that the anti-Semitism which led to the bombing is more likely to be related to the continuing political climate within Austria than to any outside terrorist group. An extremely conservative and anti-Semitic candidate campaigning for Chancellor is given a high likelihood of winning the coming election, and, as the author points out, Austria's commitment to seeking and prosecuting Nazi war criminals over the years is abysmal. The police seem to be actively protecting war criminals and helping them to regain their business reputations and finances, rather than in acknowledging any wrongdoing in the past. As one character says, "This is Austria..Our police don't play by the same rules as their European counterparts."
A mysterious businessman, Herr Ludwig Vogel, may or may not be involved in the bombing. Identified by an elderly violinist, who, during World War II, was forced to play music at a railroad station as newly arriving Jews were taken to the gas chambers, Vogel has been accused of shooting people at the station who could not identify the songs being played. When the now-elderly violinist is later found strangled, Allon tries to identify who Vogel really is, and the action careens from Vienna, to Israel, Italy, Syria, Argentina, the US, and back to Vienna, and involves complex political, financial, and national security issues affecting a number of countries.
With a world-wide scope, the novel, not surprisingly, involves a wide variety of characters involved in an equally wide assortment of sometimes questionable activities. Erich Radek, a former Nazi, responsible for making sure that mass graves containing a million Jews executed near the Russian front vanished completely, is still active in Austria, his eradication of the graves and bodies so successful that a new generation of Austrians is able to ask, "Where is the evidence that any Holocaust even happened?" Konrad Becker, a Zurich banker, has a mysterious client whose 2½ billion dollars in assets will be distributed shortly after a new chancellor is elected in Austria. Catholic Bishop Hudal, who gave Red Cross passports, money, and new visas to war criminals so they could escape the country, is still tied to Austrian politicians and police. The Peron government in Argentina, which helped war criminals escape and relocate, has been succeeded by governments which have continued to protect them. American CIA agents, not as helpful as Allon believes that they might be, are implicated in hiring Nazi war criminals with knowledge of Russia to help the US during the Cold War. As Allon narrows his search to one man, who has bodyguards and assassins at his beck and call, and who has institutional protection in Austria, the violent action reaches a crescendo.
Silva's style is perfectly suited to his subject matter. Masculine and powerful in their effect, his sentences move the action along swiftly. A former journalist, he presents information efficiently and without preamble, choosing to employ relatively short sentences, with the subject at the front of the sentence, rather than delaying a sentence's impact with introductory phrases and clauses. He uses the raw facts of the Holocaust itself and the reader's ability to imagine being in the shoes of Holocaust victims to convey the emotional highs and lows.
Testimonies from the Holocaust library at Yad Vashem, an account of Adolf Eichmann's capture and insights into it, and evidence from Auschwitz during the Holocaust and from Treblinka after it, elevate the fiction and give it credence and an emotional wallop. The story of the chase is exciting, as Allon tries to track down and bring to justice a man who is poised to continue the philosophy of the Reich into the twenty-first century. Silva's thematic goal is clearly to bring continuing injustice to light, and few readers will fail to be moved by his zeal and the power of his historical details. This is a strong novel which transcends the usual "thriller" designation because of its reliance on verifiable facts.
- Amazon readers rating: from 154 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Unlikely Spy (1996)
Michael Osbourne series:
Gabriel Allon series:
- The Kill Artist (2000)
- The English Assassin (2002)
- The Confessor (2003)
- A Death in Vienna (2004)
- Prince of Fire (2005)
- The Messenger (2006)
- The Secret Servant (2007)
- Moscow Rules (2008)
- The Defector (2009)
- The Rembrandt Affair (2010)
- Portrait of a Spy (2011)
- The Fallen Angel (2012)
- The English Girl (July 2013)
- The official website for Daniel Silva
- Wikipedia page on Daniel Silva
- The Mystery Reader review of The Mark of the Assassin
- PostGazette review of The English Assassin
- BookReporter review of The Confessor
- Wikipedia interesting tidbit on The Moscow Rules
- Chapter excerpt from The Defector
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Rembrandt Affair
- MostlyFiction.com review of Portrait of a Spy
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About the Author:
Daniel Silva began his career in journalism in San Francisco. While pursuing a graduate degree in international relations at San Francisco State University, he was hired by United Press International for a temporary assignment during the Democratic National Convention in 1984. After a week, UPI offered him a job. Silva left graduate school and went to work.
After working in San Francisco for a year, Silva was transferred to UPI's foreign desk in Washington, D.C., where he worked for two years. In 1987, he was named Middle East Correspondent and posted in Cairo.
He traveled extensively in the region, including throughout the Persian Gulf, where he met his wife, Jamie Gangel of NBC News, on assignment. The two were married in 1988, and Silva returned to Washington and went to work for CNN.
For five years, Silva worked in the newsroom of CNN's Washington Bureau, producing programs such as "The International Hour," "Inside Politics," "The World Today," and "Prime News." In 1993, he moved to the talk show unit and in 1994, began work on The Unlikely Spy, his first novel, which went on to surprise bestsellerdom and critical acclaim. Silva left CNN in June of 1997 to concentrate full time on his writing.
Daniel and Jamie with their twin children, Lily and Nicholas, live in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.