I devour Daniel Silva books like I do tacos al pastor–with a great deal of joy and, unfortunately, as fast as possible. I found that this was true recently only of two other sets of books–in 2005, I read Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy for the second time in my life and later, I went through all of the Harry Potter books. I couldn’t put them down and when I came to the last hundred pages, I let them drip from my tongue like honey as I slowly mouthed the words to myself.
I find this true of Silva’s work as well. Perhaps it’s my penchant for his character portrayals–Silva is a master at dialogue that isn’t stilted. I find, at times, that his descriptions can be pretentious and he uses a bit of passive voice that I’m not fond of, but those things are no matter. The stories of Gabrel Allon (and these are all I’ve read by Silva) are compelling, interesting, relevant and have a touch of rooting for the underdog that I love.
Let’s begin with the obvious–idiot producers in Hollywood should be scrambling to turn Allon into a Hollywood franchise with a Russel Crowe or perhaps Harrison Ford-esque leading man in the role. But they won’t. Why? Is it because Allon is a brilliant artist and art-restorer who is also a secret agent? No. Is it because he is a hired assassin who kills largely deserving terrorists and cut-throats? No. It’s because Allon is Jewish and the “office” he works for is Silva’s carefully crafted mock-up of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence gathering and secret military service. And Hollywood wouldn’t dare root for Israel. I do, though.
In The Rembrandt Affair, we have Allon at the end of a disturbingly brilliant career. He’s still haunted by the ghost of his son and the spirit of his former wife, gone mad after their son’s murder and her disfigurement at the hands of terrorists. By now, Allon is two novels into his marriage to Chiara, a beautiful Italian Jew who shares Gabriel’s penchant for art and cooks extravagant meals for him.
Mostly, he’s retired from “the office” and he lives in England where he restores paintings and walks the cliffs of the Kynance Peninsula. It’s here that Julian Isherwood, an art dealer and a sometime volunteer for the Jewish state, informs Gabriel of a stolen Rembrandt. The story is much deeper, of course, and the stolen painting leads Gabriel, Chiara and “office” team-members into the heart of the Holocaust in their attempts to prevent yet another one from happening at the hands of the mad Mullahs of Iran.
The book itself is somewhat of a departure in the Allon series, at least at first. Gabriel only agrees to help Julian because of their friendship and his love of the old Dutch Masters. The twist that takes us into European arms traders masquerading as Al Gore do-gooders with dark secrets is entirely plausible, but takes a little too much time to develop. The first hundred pages or so of the novel move rather slowly, though if you’ve read the Allon series, you can follow what’s happening fairly well. Of course, Silva is a smart enough and good enough writer to make it possible for you not to read the entire series if you so choose–but he subtly lets you know you’re missing out as he describes in one sentence what took an entire novel to develop.
The book is also different in that Allon’s relationship to the “office” team and to his “Abba” Ari Shamron, titular head of Israel’s secret Intel service, are changed. Allon is officially retired–but no one really believes it, especially Shamron. “Shamron is eternal,” says Uzi Navot, the new diector of the “office” more than once. And he is, really. He floats in and out of the series as the heart and soul of a country in constant peril. “If he dies, so does Israel.” Maybe-but one tends to think that with Allon, the son of Holocaust survivors and active participant in the mission to take down Palestinian terrorists who killed Israeli Olympic athletes, around–Israel will be fine. Or one hopes.
Meanwhile, Silva takes what I unfairly refer to as the “Clancy” style to a new level. I use this term because once upon a time, I read the Jack Ryan series of books by Clancy with the same kind of fervor. But where Clancy is technical, Silva is elegant. Where Clancy took two pages to describe the kind of weapon that the F/A-18 was about to drop, Silva takes two pages to describe how Gabriel feels about what he’s going to do next. Emotions matter to Silva, people matter–as it should be in a novel about those who reluctantly kill and destroy in order to allow Israel to survive. It’s not just character development that Silva provides, it’s the development of character in his characters that allows us to feel what they do.
The last 30 pages of the Rembrandt Affair found me intermittently tearing up, then weeping, then feeling some kind of determination-to understand what’s worth fighting for–to get inside Gabriel Allon’s troubled head and feel that sense of, “it’s not right that I have to do these things so that innocent people can live peacefully. But I’ll do them–because I can–and maybe God will forgive me.”
So, the book has its flaws–but I am hoping it’s not the last one. Gabriel is in his early 50’s now and he’s been through so much violence, so much anguish, loss and pain, that it would hardly be fair to ask Silva to write him again. But then, perhaps Allon will find other ways to restore paintings–and justice–the way Silva wrote him to. One can hope.