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