Daniel Silva is a writer of spy thrillers, most featuring the character of Gabriel Allon, a retired assassin for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. Depending on where you are in the series, Allon works undercover as one of the world’s greatest art restorers, specializing in the Renaissance masters. The character is conflicted, like all good heroes are, as he divides his time between being the healer of priceless works of art and the avenging angel of death who gunned down most of the members of Black September, the Palestinian terrorist group who took Israeli athletes hostage during the 1972 Olympics. (If you’ve seen the Spielberg film Munich, Allon essentially is the Eric Bana character.)
Silva’s popularity as an author has grown rapidly and his books flirt with the top of the bestseller charts. The Allon series are wonderful thrillers as Gabriel gets talked out of retirement for one last mission, and he and his hastily-assembled crew race against the ticking clock to save the blah blah whatever from the bad guys. Amidst the blah blah whatever, Silva’s novels always have an important historical point to them: “A Death in Vienna” is about the European theft of Jewish-owned art during the Holocaust; “Prince of Fire” is about the bloody, conflicted history of Palestinian statehood. That being said, Silva’s novels never feel like a history lesson. A fast and clever plot is always front and center, with the emotionally-wrecked Allon (his wife and child were victims of a car bomb) and his manipulative boss, Shamron, swoop in and save the day, often behind the scenes, and without credit or glory. Which is as it should be – real spies don’t ever get medals.
“The Secret Servant”, Silva’s latest, is another along these lines. However, the series is losing a bit of steam, as Gabriel can play the reluctant hero only for so long before it gets to be tired. Also I’m sensing a cynicism creep from author Silva, who is losing his touch in keeping his terrorists at least somewhat sympathetic.
Check out Silva’s earlier Allon novels (“The Kill Artist“, “A Death in Vienna“, and especially “The Confessor“) for some fun brooding spy thriller action. Also Silva’s gone Hollywood, so expect Gabriel Allon on the big screen sometime soon.
(I’ve always pictured another Gabriel – Byrne – as Allon. Watch as someone like Tom Hanks gets the role, just to torture me.)