Portrait of a Spy
In the spy world, if you have a tough job, you turn to Gabriel Allon, agent of the Israeli secret service known familiarly as the Office. In the art world, you turn to Giovanni Rossi for a tough job. He restores old masters and occasionally paints a few of his own. He needs the solace of the canvas to balance the violence that inhabits his other world, because, you see, Giovanni Rossi is only one of many aliases Gabriel Allon goes by.
"Terrorists have attacked Paris and Copenhagen, and the world has been nervously waiting to hear where the next bomb will strike."
Now, Gabriel and his wife, Chiara, are enjoying a well-earned retirement at their leased cottage in the Cornish village of Gunwalloe. Gabriel cherishes his morning walks along the ocean cliffs, with time later to spend with Chiara, as he awaits the arrival of his next restoration project. It's been a while since the Rembrandt last year. But when the couple makes a fateful trip to a London art gallery, their peace is suddenly shattered. Terrorists have attacked Paris and Copenhagen, and the world has been nervously waiting to hear where the next bomb will strike. Gabriel knows, and he tries to stop it. Unfortunately, he is the one who is stopped, and now visions of the carnage that day obsess his haunted memories.
So when the chance comes along to seriously cripple this terrorist group in its infancy, Gabriel cannot say no. But just how does one go about such a massive undertaking? Haven't our leaders been trying for years? And haven't we found that the al-Qaedas of our time play by their own rules and continue to adapt to each new effort to stop them? So what could Gabriel possibly do to destroy them? His plan is nothing short of genius. There's just one catch, and it's a doozy: He needs the help of Nadia al Bakari, the woman whose father he killed before her very eyes. He also needs a little help from the art world.
The request for action comes from none other than the Americans in the form of Gabriel's old contact, Adrian Carter, director of the National Clandestine Service branch of the CIA. Why would a superpower like the U.S. need the help of one Israeli agent? Deniability, maybe, or an inability to act quickly enough. It could be that it's paralyzed by the sheer number of its own agents. Or it's possible they simply realize that Gabriel's abilities are unsurpassed.
Once the team comes together and puts the plot in motion, there is no going back, for too many lives are at stake, foremost among them Gabriel's and Nadia's. As they bait the hook and set the trap, their plans are foiled by the very people who asked for their help to begin with. It almost looked like their assignment would be over before it barely had a chance to take hold. But then a chilling voice from the past lures them back. Despite the added danger the Americans have now put them in, Gabriel pushes ahead with the hunt. As he tries to stay one step ahead of his quarry, he wonders just who is outsmarting whom. The chase takes them to Paris, London and Dubai, where their task becomes even trickier. And when things ultimately fall apart, they do so in a spectacular way, leaving bodies strewn across the desert and exposing a traitor in their ranks.
Daniel Silva seems to have an uncanny understanding of the extremist mindset. His novels can serve as much more than entertainment; they can be looked at as wake-up calls. We know we have an enemy in our midst who has a fanatical wish to kill us and is unmindful of his own survival, as he cares not for this world. The promise is in the next one. It makes a story like PORTRAIT OF A SPY a must-read. Scary, intelligent and paced with the speed of a bullet, Silva's latest Allon installment is a blockbuster.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on July 19, 2011