Most books in the Gabriel Allon series begin with violence; a murder or perhaps a bombing where someone who is Jewish or Israeli is targeted. In book five, Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva the catalyst to Gabriel’s newest investigation involves both. There is a bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Rome and then four terrorists arrive and target anyone who might have survived with automatic assault rifles. Both ambassadors who are present die.
Gabriel is an art restorer of some genius. He would be happy to do this full time, but he has also been trained as a skilled spy and assassin for the Israeli Secret Service. Shamron, his mentor, an irascible old survivor of the Palmach in the War of Independence in Israel, keeps suddenly appearing in Gabriel’s peaceful life in Europe, where the great cathedrals and paintings live. Suddenly Gabriel will get a whiff of a smelly Turkish cigarette and know his peace will be disturbed because someone else’s peace has been shattered.
A mysterious man rents a villa in Bracciano, Italy, a Monsieur Jean-Luc. He arrives in January and vanishes in late February. The owner of the villa remembers that he spoke French with an upper-class accent.
Near the Borghese Gardens in Rome with its “elegant boulevards and quiet leafy streets, on a cul de sac sits the Israeli Embassy in Rome.
“Survivors and witnesses would recall the perfection of that late-winter morning: bright and clear, cold enough in the shadows to bring on a shiver, warm enough in the sun to unbutton a wool coat and dream of an al fresco lunch”
This stellar late-winter day is disturbed by first the aforementioned truck bomb and then by the four men with automatic rifles who jump from a car to shoot any survivors.
Once the Intelligence service on King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv collects itself, the Roman katsa (Hebrew for a undercover foreign office manager) Shimon Pazner is located and the terrorists movements are traced. Forty-eight hours later investigators find a hurriedly abandoned room pointed out by a Tunisian informant. After a thorough search the investigators find a computer disc sewn into the lining of one piece of the abandoned luggage. Shimon takes the computer disc to Tel Aviv because they have had reason to develop excellent skills for decoding encrypted information.
What they find sends them off looking for Gabriel who happens to be away from the Bellini painting he was restoring in Venice. He is in London to see an old and useful friend, Julian Isherwood, an art dealer and friend of the Israeli Secret Service, and to visit his wife who had been badly burned and emotionally damaged in a car bomb incident in Vienna. Gabriel and Leah’s son was killed. Now Leah goes through her days in silence and seems unable to remember Gabriel.
“Leah had been punished for his sins. Leah was the price a decent man paid for climbing into the sewer with murderers and terrorists.”
Gabriel is at the sanitorium to let Leah know that he intends to marry Chiara who lives with him in Venice and also works for the Office on King Saul Boulevard, but he finds he cannot say the words to her.
Shamron finds Gabriel at last when Gabriel returns to Venice and Chiara and the Bellini. Shamron reveals that the computer disc they decoded contained a detailed dossier of Gabriel’s assassination activities for the Office. Fingerprints identified the holder of the dossier as Daoud Hadawi, a Palestinian refugee. The same computer disc also contained photos and security analyses for targets in Europe. Gabriel could not say no to Shamron. Chiara is coming too.
Gabriel is given an office in Room 456C at King Saul Boulevard and this time he has a team. Chiara is bat leveyha, Hebrew for a girl escort officer. Yossi comes from Research, Dina, from History, Yaakov from Arab Affairs is a shabak, a body guard, Rimona is from Military Intelligence and is Shamron’s niece. Using what they know, the name and national origin of Daoud Hadawi, they begin their investigation, which also seems to have a connection to Yasir Arafat, by interviewing all of their Arab informants.
“Gabriel began each day by posing the same series of questions. Who built the bomb? Who conceived and planned the attack? Who directed the teams? Who secured the safe houses and the transport? Who handled the money: Who was the mastermind? Was there a state sponsor in Damascus or Tehran or Tripoli?”
And who is Khaled al-Khalifa. “Khaled is a rumor. Khaled is a ghost story. He is the thing that is missing.”
The investigation will lead far and wide. How many times will Gabriel be wounded in the search for Khaled al-Kalifa? Who else will die? Will Gabriel ever get to finish working on the Bellini in Venice? Will he ever tell Leah about Chiara? So many questions I can’t answer because that would ruin this excellent spy story.
Photo credit: From a Google Image Search – You Tube