Monday, March 5, 2018

A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva: A review

This fourth book in the Gabriel Allon series was published in 2003 and once again we find the art restorer/Israeli agent dealing with surviving Holocaust victims and war criminals nearly sixty years after the end of the war. The clock is running out on these people and with it the possibility of bringing any sort of justice to either the victims or their tormentors.

This entry finds Allon still working on restoring a painting at a church in Venice. While he works there, a bomb explodes in Vienna at the Wartime Claims and Inquiries Office. The head of the office, Eli Lavon, is also a sometime Israeli agent and a friend of Allon. He is seriously injured in the blast and the two women who worked with him are killed.

Ari Shamron, Allon's former boss at the Israeli intelligence agency, arranges for him to go to Vienna to investigate. There he meets an elderly Holocaust survivor who insists that a prominent local businessman named Ludwig Vogel is actually a notorious Nazi war criminal named Erich Radek. Coincidentally, it develops that Radek was one of those at the Nazi death camp at Birkenau where Allon's mother was held. Moreover, his late mother's written testimony implicates Radek as the murderer of two of her friends and as one of her own tormentors. Also, she was an artist and some of her art works based on Birkenau experiences show Radek's activities.

Soon, Allon's informant in Vienna is himself killed and his investigation leads him to believe that the bomb blast as well as the murder of the elderly Holocaust survivor were done to prevent Vogel/Radek from being publicly exposed. Austria is in the midst of an election campaign and the leading candidate for the presidency on the right is actually the son of Radek. To expose him as the son of a Nazi could disrupt the campaign. (Or maybe not. This is Austria, the country that elected Kurt Waldheim, after all.)

Anyway, Allon follows Radek's trail after the war all the way to Argentina, in order to prove that he is who the Israelis believe he is. Then he concocts a complicated scheme to force Radek to go to Israel and to stand trial for his war crimes. The story becomes a thriller as we follow Allon and his team as they implement the plan and try to bring one more old Nazi to justice.

Parts of the book involve descriptions of the treatment of the people in concentration camps, including the written testimony of Allon's mother. These sections are graphic and disturbing and very difficult to read. On the other hand, we also see Allon's blossoming relationship with his girlfriend, Chiara, another Israeli agent who watches his back in difficult situations here.

The plot is fast-paced and full of action, but I had the sense that, in spite of the action, the character of Allon is rather static. There doesn't seem to have been much growth or development throughout these first four books in the series. Perhaps that will change in future books.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars    

5 comments:

  1. I liked A Death in Vienna much more than you did. In my review back when I must have said something very clever or perhaps incredibly stupid because that post is among my most visited ever.

    Allon doesn't evolve much during the series, but in my case, at least, that's not the reason I read this series but rather for the perspective it provides on Israeli relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world. One can find more historical background and geopolitics in this series about the Middle East than I have ever found across my rather limited readings.

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    1. I'm interested to see where the series goes from here. I did like this book - I just didn't find it exceptionally good, but the historical references and information regarding the Holocaust were especially affecting. And Allon is certainly a sympathetic character. Perhaps his personal history just makes him a bit "buttoned up."

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  2. Yes, that could be. He opens up more as the series progresses. He has a wicked sense of humor, always related to his trade, which I find refreshing and enlightening. My favorite character in the series is not Gabriel but Ari Shamron; when two books ago Silva hinted that Ari was on the brink on dying I almost cried. I like Julian Isherwood too.

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  3. How timely. I just got this one from the library and will read it soon. I have to agree with you both. With Carmen about the historical background and geopolitics in the Middle East I learn while reading; with Dorothy on the somewhat static character of Allon. I am betting that Silva will keep the Israeli connection rocking and something will happen to spark up Gabriel in the upcoming books, of which there are plenty to look forward to.

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    1. It’s an interesting series. I’ll be returning to it as time goes by.

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