Summer seems the perfect time for reading mysteries and thrillers. As the summer doldrums set in - as they definitely have in my neck of the woods - we need something to stir the blood a bit and make the heart race. Thriller/mysteries seem just the ticket for that.
With that thought in mind, I turned to the second book in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series. I had read the first book in that series, The Kill Artist, last summer, just over a year ago. I was impressed enough to put the series on my reading list and so here I sit, The English Assassin in hand.
Gabriel Allon, for those who may be unaware, is an Israeli art restorer who lives in Cornwall, England. Restoring art is his day job but he also has a second and secret life as an agent of the Israeli government. As such, he is, from time to time, called into service on special assignments.
His secret life has cost him much. Most notably, it cost him the life of his baby son whose body was blown to bits by a car bomb set by a Palestinian agent in Venice several years ago. In that same attack, his beloved wife was horribly injured. She lived but is terribly scarred both physically and emotionally and does not communicate with Gabriel. She lives in a nursing home in England.
Gabriel Allon is a very reluctant agent. He maintains a respect/hate relationship with his handler but it seems he is incapable of refusing an assignment, so when he is asked to go to Zurich to visit a private banker who has information to share, potentially about art or treasure stolen by the Nazis during World War II, he is soon on his way.
His cover for the trip is that he is being asked to restore a Raphael owned by the banker. He arrives at the banker's villa and enters using the codes he has been given. He goes to the room where the Raphael hangs and finds himself standing in blood - the blood of the dead Swiss banker whose body is on the floor.
Realizing his vulnerability and that he may be framed for murder, he leaves but is soon stopped by the Zurich police and arrested. He is soon released but is warned never to return to Zurich.
The thriller unfolds from this event. It turns out that the dead banker has a beautiful blonde daughter who is a famous violinist and Gabriel is assigned to work with her to try to discover what it was that her father wanted to share with the Israelis. Since father and daughter were estranged and she had not been in communication with him, that might prove difficult.
The plot revolves around the art treasures that were stolen from Jews during the Holocaust and the effort to track them down, recover them, and return them to their rightful owners. It's a complicated effort made more difficult by the fact that so many of them are held in private "banks" in Switzerland which seem to be untouched by the rule of international law.
I was fascinated by this exposition of the insular culture of Switzerland and the secretive world of banking there. As one of the characters expostulates at one point, "the whole country is a bank!" I'm not sure that is entirely fair and accurate, but, making allowances for hyperbole, it does seem to go to the heart of explaining how the Swiss see themselves.
Though there was a fair amount of intellectual exposition in the book, there were enough shootings, stabbings, kidnappings, beatings, and torture to keep the most bloodthirsty thriller fan happy. On the whole, it was a good mix and made for a compelling read.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars