Four years ago, Daniel Silva hit the ground running with
Spy, a big, ambitious World War II drama that evoked comparisons with
Ken Follett, and John Le Carré. In his fourth and latest novel, The Kill Artist, Silva turns to the twisted history and undying blood feuds of the Middle East and solidifies his position as one of the most accomplished new practitioners of the international thriller.
The hero of The Kill Artist is Gabriel Allon, a world-class art restorer and former Israeli intelligence agent who lost his wife and son to a Palestinian car bombing in 1991. As the novel opens, Gabriel is living a solitary, tightly focused existence on the Cornish coast of England when a figure from the past -- legendary spymaster Ari Shamron -- reenters his life. Shamron, the agent responsible for the kidnapping and capture of Adolph Eichman, has a brand new scheme in mind, a scheme that requires Gabriel Allon's services.
A renegade Arab terrorist known only as Tariq has recently resurfaced. He has murdered a number of prominent Israeli supporters, and his reign of terror threatens the success of the delicately balanced Middle East peace talks. Faced with the prospect of confronting Tariq, the man responsible for the destruction of his family, Gabriel comes out of retirement, and agrees to
mount the final intelligence initiative of his career.
The operation that follows is a tortuous affair, marked by departmental wrangling, hidden political agendas, and wheels within wheels. The action unfolds in a series of crisp, tightly constructed set pieces that range from the capitals of Europe (Paris, London, Lisbon) to Jerusalem itself, with intermittent stops in Montreal, New York City, and Washington, DC. Characters caught up in the drama include a London-based art dealer who has fallen on hard times, a Rupert Murdoch- style media magnate, and a world famous fashion model whose glossy, high-profile lifestyle conceals her tragic family history, and her occasional role as a clandestine operative for the Israeli secret service.
John Le Carré -- particularly the Le Carré of
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Little Drummer Girl -- is a pervasive presence throughout this novel. And though Silva never quite reaches Le Carré's level of stylistic mastery and psychological complexity, he has clearly absorbed some valuable lessons, and has developed into a strong, seductive storyteller with his own distinctive voice. The Kill Artist is a moving, thoughtful, evenhanded examination of a troubled corner of the world, and it deserves the attention of serious thriller fans everywhere.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of
At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (www.subterraneanpress.com).
What seemed at first like a promising career has now veered toward the predictable and slightly silly. Silva's first novel, The Unlikely Spy, was a new take on a tired genre. His second and third books, while not as fresh, were satisfying high-speed adventures. With this book, Silva has slipped into the rousing-but-exhausted world of Robert Ludlum. The hero of the story is Gabriel Allon, a onetime master spy for the Israeli intelligence service who is so good he goes by only his last name (are you tracking the silliness quotient?). Allon bailed out of the spy business when his wife and child were killed, presumably by the Palestinian superterrorist Tariq. When Tariq surfaces years later with plans to derail the Middle East peace process, revenge compels Allon to join in the search. From there it's pretty much a straightforward fox hunt, which in this genre means the fox is often the one doing the hunting. The book lacks depth and when you're done, you'll have to remind yourself who wrote the thing. Frankly, it could have been one of about six writers, all of whom are kicking out the same kind of book, complete with interchangeable characters and indistinguishable plots.
Randy Michael Signor
A former Mossad agent, now an art restorer, is tapped to help thwart a Palestinian plot to halt peace talks by assassinating Yasir Arafat. Another December 26 release. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
“[A] HEART-STOPPING, COMPLEX YARN OF INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM AND INTRIGUE…A thrilling roller-coaster ride, keeping readers guessing until the mind-bending conclusion.”—Publishers Weekly
“A writer who is bringing NEW LIFE TO THE INTERNATIONAL THRILLER.”—Newsday
“A MASTER WRITER OF ESPIONAGE…[Daniel Silva’s] writing is clean, crisp, and compelling.”—The Cincinnati Enquirer
“[A] THRILL-A-MINUTE SURE-FIRE BESTSELLER…[that] rips Middle East strife from the headlines.”—Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
By coincidence Timothy Peel arrived in the village the same week in July as the stranger. He and his mother moved into a ramshackle cottage at the head of the tidal creek with her latest lover, a struggling playwright named Derek, who drank too much wine and detested children. The stranger arrived two days later, settling into the old foreman's cottage just up
the creek from the oyster farm.
Peel had little to do that summer - when Derek and his mother weren't making clamorous love, they were taking inspirational forced marches along the cliffs - so he determined to find out exactly who the stranger was and what
he was doing in Cornwall. Peel decided the best way to begin was to watch. Because he was eleven, and the only child of divorced parents, Peel was well schooled in the art of human observation and investigation. Like any good surveillance artist, he required a fixed post. He settled on his bedroom window, which had an unobstructed view over the creek. In the
storage shed he found a pair of ancient Zeiss binoculars, and at the village store he purchased a small notebook and ballpoint pen for recording his watch report.
The first thing Peel noticed was that the stranger liked old objects. His car was a vintage MG roadster. Peel would watch from his window as the man hunched over the motor for hours at a time, his back poking from beneath the bonnet. A man of great concentration, Peel concluded. A man of great mental endurance.
After a month the stranger vanished. A few days passed, then a week, then a fortnight. Peel feared the stranger had spotted him and taken flight. Bored senseless without the routine of watching, Peel got into trouble. He was caught hurling a rock
though the window of a tea shop in the village. Derek sentenced him to a week of solitary confinement in his bedroom.
But that evening Peel managed to slip out with his binoculars. He walked along the quay, past the stranger's darkened cottage and the oyster farm, and stood at the point where the creek fed into the Helford River, watching the sailboats coming in with the tide. He spotted a ketch heading in under power. He raised the binoculars to his eyes and studied the figure standing at the wheel.
The stranger had come back to Port Navas.
The ketch was old and badly in need of restoration, and the stranger cared for it with the same devotion he had shown his fickle MG. He toiled for several hours each day: sanding, varnishing, painting, polishing brass, changing lines and canvas. When the weather was warm he would strip to the waist. Peel couldn't help but compare the stranger's body with Derek's.
Derek was soft and flabby; the stranger was compact and very hard, the kind of man you would quickly regret picking a fight with. By the end of August his skin had turned nearly as dark as the varnish he was so meticulously applying to the deck of the ketch.
He would disappear aboard the boat for days at a time. Peel had no way to follow him. He could only imagine where the stranger was going. Down the Helford to the sea? Around the Lizard to St. Michael's Mount or Penzance? Maybe around the cape to St. Ives.
Then Peel hit upon another possibility. Cornwall was famous for its pirates; indeed, the region still had its fair share of smugglers. Perhaps the stranger was running the ketch out to sea to meet cargo vessels and ferry contraband to shore.
The next time the stranger returned from one of his voyages, Peel stood a strict watch in his window, hoping to catch him in
the act of removing contraband from the boat. But as he leaped from the prow of the ketch onto the quay, he had nothing in his hands but a canvas rucksack and plastic rubbish bag.
The stranger sailed for pleasure, not profit.
Peel took out his notebook and drew a line through the word smuggler.
The large parcel arrived the first week of September, a flat wooden crate, nearly as big as a barn door. It came in a van from London, accompanied by an agitated man in pinstripes. The stranger's days immediately assumed a reverse rhythm. At night the top floor of the cottage burned with light - not normal light, Peel observed, but a very clear white light. In the mornings, when Peel left home for school, he would see the stranger heading down the creek in the ketch, or working on his MG, or setting off in a pair of battered hiking boots to pound the footpaths of the Helford Passage. Peel supposed he slept afternoons, though he seemed like a man who could go a long time without rest.
Peel wondered what the stranger was doing all night. Late one evening he decided to have a closer look. He pulled on a sweater and coat and slipped out of the cottage without telling his mother. He stood on the quay. looking up at the
stranger's cottage. The windows were open; a sharp odor hung on the air, something between rubbing alcohol and petrol. He could also hear music of some sort - singing, opera perhaps.