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The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva

Updated on December 10, 2009

It was during the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich that the Palestinian group Black September took the Israeli team hostage. By the end of the day 17 people would be dead, including 11 unarmed Israeli men who had dreamed of striving for honor on the world stage and 5 Palestinians who saw themselves fighting for a lost homeland. The reaction of the Israeli government was swift and deadly. Operation Wrath of God was begun, teams of Israeli experts were sent across the globe with one mission: find those who were responsible for the death of Jews on German soil, and kill them.

Gabriel Allon was a key operative in the Mossad, recruited from art school after serving his time as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces. His mission was to act as the team leader, and assassin, for the hit squad. The same keen eye and attention to detail that made him an expert art restorer was put to use to bring vengeance to the enemies of his home.  When his wife and daughter fell victim to the bombs of the very men he hunted, Gabriel left the Office and devoted himself to the work of art restoration -- previously a cover for his secret missions. 

 But now Ari Shamron, the head of Israeli intelligence, needs Gabriel's particular kind of experience to thwart a Palestinian plot to destroy the peace negotiations in the Middle East.  The architect of this plot, a Palestinian zealot named Tariq, is a lethal part of Gabriel's past, and so as the two begin an intercontinental game of hide-and-seek, with life and death as the prizes, the motives are as personal as they are political.  The story features a colorful supporting cast-- including the Office legend Shamron, a beautiful French-Jewish model who is seeking retribution for her family's death in the Holocaust, and a marvelously comic down-at-the-heels London art dealer.  The strange and highly secretive financial juggling that keeps government hands clean is personified in publishing mogul Benjamin Stone, who backs the Israeli efforts. That same theme runs through the quick look at the cutthroat art world, and the ways that people can find themselves supporting causes.  It also includes interesting background detail about the Palestinian situation and provides a brief glimpse of how the fight looks from the other side. Certainly this story is very supportive of the Israeli cause, and there is no question on which side is the good guy, but it is good to get the reminder that there are two sides to every story.  An array of global locales adds to the complexity and authenticity of the dizzying, cinematic plot.

The plot is as intricate as a chess game, albeit a game where each piece has a deeply felt personality, background, and damaged psyche such that they refuse to move where the player wants them to. Another thing that I like about Silva's work is that, while Gabriel is the central character and our guide, each of Silva's characters has his/her own agenda and life and is capable of growing, changing direction, and surprising the reader. One feels when reading Silva's books that the book is built to elucidate several characters, not merely one central character. All of these elements add up to a smart and electrically exciting international thriller.


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