Julian Isherwood’s art shop in London has taken a bit of a slide lately so the generous offer of his colleague, involving an all-expense-paid getaway to Lake Como, seems simply irresistible. Well, if it sounds too good to be true most often it is exactly that. When Julian arrives to the luxurious Italian villa he sees a truly macabre scene: the Englishman expat whose art collection he was supposed to assess is hanging from a chandelier with blood and entrails adorning the marble floor. Now the Italian police have picked up Julian as a possible culprit, so it falls to Gabriel Allon to free his friend. How? By finding a missing altarpiece by Caravaggio that disappeared from a church over 40 years ago.
Until that moment, Gabriel had been living at peace in Venice, restoring an altarpiece by Veronese and anxiously awaiting the birth of his twins. He truly hates the idea of leaving Chiara, his pregnant wife, behind and would love nothing more than to meet his deadline. Living peacefully for a while was such a nice experience. Still he cannot desert one of his oldest friends and a Holocaust survivor who’s helped him many times. That’s how he embarks on yet another daring mission which will lead him to Switzerland, France, the UK, Corsica and Israel. What will he discover while looking for the stolen masterpiece?
If you are, like me, a fan of this series you won’t be surprised by my statement that The Heist is a typical Allon yarn with periodic references to world events cleverly interspersed. It wasn’t a bad read but it didn’t work for me as well as the previous parts, especially the brilliant English Girl.
I’ve always said that it is not easy to write a series of books and keep it interesting – the more parts are planned by the evil publisher the more the author is bound to repeat some scenes, plot devices and, overall, themselves. Taking it all into account the fourteenth Gabriel Allon novel shouldn’t be judged too harshly. Mr. Silva still did a good job with research, the narration pace and the whole premise. You get a more or less correct bio of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (one heck of a rebel artist, one of my favourites). If you are not into the old masters, by introducing the character of Jihan Nawaz whose family was killed by the regime of Hafez al-Assad in the massacre of Hama in 1982, Silva provides a mimi-biography of the dictator who ruled Syria from 1970 to his death in 2000 and his attempt to wipe out the Moslem Brotherhood who opposed his regime. When speaking about Russian support for the current leader of Syria, Bashir al-Assad, Silva explains the Russian-Syrian connection and the role of Putin.
If I read this one as the first book of the Allon series I would be very pleased indeed. Unfortunately it is my 10+ story so I admit my tolerance was tested rather badly. Let me start the list of complaints.
Firstly Gabriel Allon once again had to prove what a big, fat, noble knight in the white armour he is and it started to annoy me to no end. Please, give the man some steel backbone back, give him some assassin instincts: if he is supposed to be one of the best Israeli assassin/spies, the once and future counter-intelligence operative and the future head of the entire Mossad, he can’t be so damn soft around edges, especially whenever a woman (very often an Arab woman) is needing his unique spying services (and vice versa).
Then the secondary characters, some of them very likeable and with a lot of potential, weren’t given enough exposure. I felt they were stifled by the action jumps and Allon’s struggles to be as white a knight as it is only possible. You don’t get here any witty interactions or dialogues which I liked so much in the previous books, no attempts to flesh anybody out even a tiny little bit. All of them were behaving like your ordinary cutout dummies, with ugly but mercilessly short infodumps concerning their past (some of them sounding suspiciously like a simple copy-and-paste job from the previous installments). I did expect something better.
In addition I suppose the author could have come with a better title – at least one which wouldn’t remind you of a Janet Evanovich novel (not a compliment in my mouth, believe me).
So why I finished the book at all? Mainly because of its stolen Caravaggio thread. Our hero is looking for an altarpiece, the Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, to the very end, exposing, as usual, some tools of the renovation trade and some tricks used by the black market dealers of stolen goods. Those were actually the best parts – what a pity they constituted something like half of the plot.
The Heist wasn’t certainly the worst thriller I’ve ever read but in my opinion it never exceeded beyond a middle-of-the-road offering. It is especially painful as it comes from an author whose books I like and I’ve been praising a lot. For a reason or two the story wasn’t as engaging the whole way through as in previous novels (in other words some parts were just same old, same old) and I got annoyed with the soft-touch, saintly-saintly, pure-as-fresh-snow Gabriel very soon. I guess after fourteen books Silva’s formula, quite successful so far, is becoming a little stale.
Other Daniel Silva’s novels I’ve reviewed here: