Monday, February 20, 2017

Review of "The Heist" by Daniel Silva

Gabriel Allon - 5'8", slim and attractive.....with striking green eyes - is a man of many talents. He's one of the best art restorers (and forgers) in the world; a top-notch Israeli intelligence agent; a capable assassin; and a first class strategist/technician for covert operations.

As the book opens Allon and his second wife Chiara - who's expecting twins - are living in Venice, Italy where Allon is restoring artwork in a church. Allon's quiet life is disrupted when he' s approached by General Ferrari - head of the art recovery squad - who's determined to retrieve a Caravaggio painting stolen decades ago. Ferrari believes Jack Bradshaw - a murdered British expat living in Lake Como - may have known the whereabouts of the Caravaggio. Thus, Ferrari coerces Allon to investigate Bradshaw's death - and hopefully find the masterpiece.

In the course of his inquiries Allon learns that unscrupulous bigwigs, including mafia dons and dictators, collect stolen art to use as a kind of currency. Moreover, one of the Middle East's most ruthless tyrants - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - is amassing a large collection of stolen art. Al-Assad views this as a kind of insurance, in case he's ousted and can't access his hidden billions.

Allon hatches an elaborate scheme to part al-Assad with his fortune and to find the Caravaggio. The plan involves selling a forgery of Van Gogh's painting 'Sunflowers' (painted by Allon) to al-Assad's buyer and to hack al-Assad's secret accounts and steal the cash. For the hacking scheme Allon's team co-opts a woman named Jawal Nawaz - a Syrian-born, German citizen who works in a bank that al-Assad uses.

Allon's plan requires lots of travel plus assistance from various 'series regulars' including Ari Shamron - former head of 'The Office' (the Israeli spy agency ); Eli Lavon - an ex-spy who's now an archaeologist; Uzi Navot - the current director of The Office; Navot's wife Bella - an expert on Syria and terrorists; and Christopher Keller - an assassin turned good guy (sort of). Several features of Allon's plan are completely unbelievable (for example, a banker keeps the only records of al-Assad's secret bank accounts in a notebook in his pocket).....but this is a novel after all. LOL

In the midst of all the action Allon visits his first wife Leah in a psychiatric hospital. Leah lost her sanity after being injured by a bomb that killed her (and Allon's) son Daniel. Leah's mind replays the bombing constantly, but she has occasional moments of clarity - and these scenes are disturbing and sad.

I won't say any more about the plot, except that Allon shows he's an honorable, stand-up guy.

Many reviewers remark that Daniel Silva's 'Gabriel Allon' stories are formulaic, and they are. But the books are well-written - with good plots and interesting characters. I'd highly recommend "The Heist" to fans of espionage thrillers.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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