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Portrait of a SpyA Novel
By Daniel Silva
HarperCollinsCopyright © 2011 Daniel Silva
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall
It was the Rembrandt that solved the mystery once and
for all. Afterward, in the quaint shops where they did their
marketing and the dark little seaside pubs where they did their
drinking, they would chide themselves for having missed the telltale
signs, and they would share a good natured laugh at some of
their more outlandish theories about the true nature of his work.
Because in their wildest dreams there was not one among them
who ever considered the possibility that the taciturn man from
the far end of Gunwalloe Cove was an art restorer, and a world
famous art restorer at that.
He was not the first outsider to wander down to Cornwall with
a secret to keep, yet few had guarded theirs more jealously, or with
more style and intrigue. A case in point was the peculiar manner
in which he had secured lodgings for himself and his beautiful but
much younger wife. Having chosen the picturesque cottage at the
edge of the cliffsby all accounts, sight unseenhe had paid
the entire twelve-month lease in advance, with all the paperwork
handled discreetly by an obscure lawyer in Hamburg. He settled
into the cottage a fortnight later as if he were conducting a raid
on a distant enemy outpost. Those who met him during his first
forays into the village were struck by his notable lack of candor.
He seemed to have no nameat least not one he was willing to
shareand no country of origin that any of them could place.
Duncan Reynolds, thirty years retired from the railroad and
regarded as the worldliest of Gunwalloe's residents, described him as
"a cipher of a man" while other reviews ranged from "standoffish"
to "unbearably rude." Even so, all agreed that, for better or worse,
the little west Cornish village of Gunwalloe had become a far more
With time, they were able to establish that his name was
Giovanni Rossi and that, like his beautiful wife, he was of Italian
descent. Which made it all the more curious when they began
to notice government-issue cars filled with government-issue men
prowling the streets of the village late at night. And then there
were the two blokes who sometimes fished the cove. Opinion was
universal that they were the worst fishermen anyone had ever seen.
In fact, most assumed they were not fishermen at all. Naturally, as
is wont to happen in a small village like Gunwalloe, there began
an intense debate about the true identity of the newcomer and the
nature of his worka debate that was finally resolved by Portrait
of a Young Woman, oil on canvas, 104 by 86 centimeters, by
Rembrandt van Rijn.
Precisely when it arrived would never be clear. They
assumed it was sometime in mid-January because that was when
they noticed a dramatic change in his daily routine. One day he
was marching along the rugged cliff tops of the Lizard Peninsula
as though wrestling with a guilty conscience; the next he
was standing before an easel in his living room, a paintbrush
in one hand, a palette in the other, and opera music blasting so
loudly you could hear the wailing clear across Mount's Bay in
Marazion . Given the proximity of his cottage to the Coastal
Path, it was possibleif one paused in just the right spot, mind
you, and craned one's neck at just the right angleto see him in
his studio. At first, they assumed he was working on a painting
of his own. But as the weeks ground slowly past, it became clear
he was involved in the craft known as conservation or, more
commonly, as restoration.
"Hell's that mean?" Malcolm Braithwaite, a retired lobster man
who smelled perpetually of the sea, asked one evening at the Lamb
and Flag pub.
"It means he's fixing the bloody thing," said Duncan Reynolds.
"A painting is like a living, breathing thing. When it gets old, it
flakes and sagsjust like you, Malcolm."
"I hear it's a young girl."
"Pretty," said Duncan, nodding his head. "Cheeks like apples.
She looks positively edible."
"Do we know the artist?"
"Still working on that."
And work on it they did. They consulted many books, searched
many sites on the Internet, and sought out people who knew more
about art than they dida category that included most of the
population of West Cornwall. Finally, in early April, Dottie Cox from
the village store screwed up the nerve to simply ask the beautiful
young Italian woman about the painting when she came into town
to do her marketing. The woman evaded the question with an
ambiguous smile. Then, with her straw bag slung over her shoulder,
she sauntered back down to the cove, her riotous dark hair tossed
by the springtime wind. Within minutes of her arrival, the wailing
of the opera ceased and the window shades of the cottage fell like
They remained tightly closed for the next week, at which
point the restorer and his beautiful wife disappeared without
warning. For several days, the residents of Gunwalloe feared
they might not be planning to return, and a few actually berated
themselves for having snooped and pried into the couple's
private affairs. Then, while leafing through the Times one
morning at the village store, Dottie Cox noticed a story from
Washington , D.C., about the unveiling of a long-lost portrait
by Rembrandt a portrait that looked precisely like the one that
had been in the cottage at the far end of the cove. And thus the
mystery was solved.
Coincidentally, that same edition of the Times contained a
front-page article about a series of mysterious explosions at four
secret Iranian nuclear facilities. No one in Gunwalloe imagined
there might be any connection. At least not yet.
The restorer was a changed man when he came back from America;
they could see that. Though he remained guarded in his personal
encountersand he was still not the sort you would want to
surprise in the darkit was obvious a great burden had been lifted
from his shoulders. They saw a smile on his angular face every
now and again, and the light emitted by his unnaturally green eyes
seemed a shade less defensive. Even his long daily walks had a
different quality. Where once he had pounded along the footpaths
like a man possessed, he now seemed to float atop the mist-covered
cliffs like an Arthurian spirit who had come home after a long time
in a distant land.
"Looks to me as if he's been released from a sacred vow,"
observed Vera Hobbs, owner of the village bakeshop. But when
asked to venture a guess as to what that vow might have been, or
to whom he had sworn it, she refused. Like everyone else in town,
she had made a fool of herself trying to divine his occupation.
"Besides," she advised, "it's better to leave him in peace. Otherwise,
the next time he and his pretty wife leave the Lizard, it might be
Indeed, as that glorious summer slowly faded, the restorer's
future plans became the primary preoccupation of the entire village.
With the lease on the cottage running out in September, and with
no tangible evidence he was planning to renew it, they embarked on
a covert effort to persuade him to stay. What the restorer needed,
they decided, was something to keep him tethered to the Cornish
coasta job that utilized his unique set of skills and gave him
something to do other than walk the cliffs. Exactly what that job
might entail, and who would give it to him, they had no idea, but
they entrusted to themselves the delicate task of trying to find it.
After much deliberation, it was Dottie Cox who finally hit upon
the idea of the First Annual Gunwalloe Festival of Fine Arts, with
the famous art restorer Giovanni Rossi serving as honorary chairman.
She made the suggestion to the restorer's wife the following
morning when she popped into the village store at her usual time.
The woman actually laughed for several minutes. The offer was
flattering, she said after regaining her composure, but she didn't
think it was the sort of thing Signor Rossi would agree to. His
official rejection came soon after, and the Gunwalloe Festival of
Fine Arts quietly withered on the vine. It was no matter; a few
days later, they learned that the restorer had taken the cottage for
another year. Once again, the lease was paid in full, with all the
paperwork handled by the same obscure lawyer in Hamburg.
With that, life returned to something like normal. They would
see the restorer in mid-morning when he came to the village with
his wife to do their marketing, and they would see him again in
mid-afternoon when he hiked along the cliff tops in his Barbour
coat and his flat cap pulled low over his brow. And if he failed
to give them a proper greeting, they took no offense. And if he
seemed uneasy about something, they gave him room to work it
out on his own. And if a stranger came to town, they tracked his
every move until he was gone. The restorer and his wife might
have come from Italy originally, but they belonged to Cornwall
now, and heaven help the fool who ever tried to take them
There were, however, some on the Lizard who believed there
was more to the storyand one man in particular who believed he
knew what it was. His name was Teddy Sinclair, owner of a rather
good pizzeria in Helston and a subscriber to conspiracy theories
large and small. Teddy believed the moon landings were a hoax.
Teddy believed 9/11 was an inside job. And Teddy believed the
man from Gunwalloe Cove was hiding more than a secret ability
to heal paintings.
To prove his case once and for all, he summoned the villagers to
the Lamb and Flag on the second Thursday of November and
unveiled a chart that looked a bit like the periodic table of elements.
It purported to establish, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the
explosions at the Iranian nuclear facilities were the work of a
legendary Israeli intelligence officer named Gabriel Allonand that
the same Gabriel Allon was now living peacefully in Gunwalloe
under the name Giovanni Rossi. When the laughter finally died
down, Duncan Reynolds called it the dumbest thing he'd heard
since some Frenchman decided that Europe should have a common
currency. But this time Teddy stood his ground, which in hindsight
was the right thing to do. Because Teddy might have been
wrong about the moon landings, and wrong about 9/11, but when
it came to the man from Gunwalloe Cove, his theory was in every
The next morning, Remembrance Day, the village woke to the
news that the restorer and his wife had disappeared. In a panic,
Vera Hobbs hurried down to the cove and peered through the
windows of the cottage. The restorer's supplies were scattered across
a low table, and propped on the easel was a painting of a nude
woman stretched upon a couch. It took Vera a moment to realize
that the couch was identical to the one in the living room, and
that the woman was the same one she saw each morning in her
bakeshop. Despite her embarrassment, Vera couldn't seem to summon
the will to look away, because it happened to be one of the
most strikingly beautiful paintings she had ever seen. It was also
a very good sign, she thought as she headed back to the village. A
painting like that was not the sort of thing a man left behind when
he was making a run for it. Eventually, the restorer and his wife
would come back. And heaven help that bloody Teddy Sinclair if
Excerpted from Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva Copyright © 2011 by Daniel Silva. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
DANIEL SILVA is the #1 New York Timesbestselling author of The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the Assassin, The Marching Season, The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, Prince of Fire, A Death in Vienna, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, Moscow Rules, The Defector and The Rembrandt Affair. He is married to NBC News Today correspondent Jamie Gangel. They have two children, Lily and Nicholas. In 2009 Silva was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.
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