shadowy figure moves into a private Tuscan villa, his length of
stay unknown. The staff has orders to cater to all of his needs,
but by no means should they attempt to engage him in social
contact. He arrives under the cloak of night, alone. His
instructions are to remove all the furniture from the study and
stay out of his private rooms. No cook will be necessary. It is
weeks before he drives back out of the front gates. By then, a
woman has joined him, causing a stir of speculation among the maids
"Do the staff really have no idea who you are?"
"They think I'm an eccentric restorer who suffers from
melancholia and mood swings."
"It sounds to me as if they know you quite well."
Agent Gabriel Allon has come to this secluded estate to recover
from a near-fatal experience involving terrorists in Paris. He
resumes his cover role as Mario Delvecchio, skilled art restorer.
Chiara, his wife of only a few months, is the woman who has joined
him in Tuscany. The newlyweds try to enjoy a peaceful honeymoon,
all too aware that the Agency may intrude at any time, despite
promises that they won't.
As they feared, a visitor arrives one day, and both Gabriel and
Chiara know it is not a social call. The man carries a simple
request, however. The Agency just needs Gabriel to make a quick
trip to Rome, a mere two hours away, to meet with a Russian
journalist who insists he will speak to no one but Gabriel. He
asked for him by name. Chiara, an agent herself, has an intuition
that the errand will not be so simple. Gabriel assures her and
their visitor that he will arrange a meeting at the Vatican --- a
rendezvous point he considers safe, with good visibility and
friendly allies --- and return to the villa in a short time. His
assurances comfort neither one of them.
"…I doubt that your friend His Holiness will be pleased
if he ever finds out you used his church for a clandestine
"It's a basilica…and His Holiness will never know a
"Unless something goes wrong."
"It's my honeymoon. What could go wrong?"
Famous last words. If it had been so simple, the story would have
been far different. As it is, the simple errand takes a sudden
downturn. Once the plan has gone awry, Gabriel has to devise a new
one, which turns out to be very intricate and, of course, extremely
risky. But any covert operation on Russian soil is certain to be
Recent decades have seen an emergence of billionaires rising from
the ashes of old Russia. Many of the privileged few flock to the
beaches of southern France, vacationing in the warmth of the St.
Tropez sun while the masses at home in Moscow are wiping icicles
from their noses. One ruthless man to emerge with embarrassing
riches is Ivan Kharkov, who enjoys his power and flaunts his
success, which he buttresses with just about any kind of illegal
activity as long as it's profitable. He has no scruples about
selling banned weapons to hostile buyers, if they have the
The messenger at the Vatican meeting would have told Gabriel all he
needed to know to intercept an upcoming sale, a sale of terrifying