Book Reviews

Book Review: The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva – Just When I Thought I Was Out They Pull Me Back In

This is the first book in author Daniel Silva’s series about Israeli intelligence operative Gabriel Allon. It is not the beginning of Gabriel’s story, although it does fill in many of the blanks of his life.

Readers first meet Gabriel Allon as he is working as an art restorer in a cottage in Cornwall, England. It’s a career that has allowed him to move around the world without having to rely on a false background that could be discovered. He’s made friends with the boy who lives next to the cottage, but no one knows who Gabriel really is there.

Ari Shamron, the head of Israeli Intelligence, goes to visit Gabriel after an Israeli diplomat is assassinated in Paris. The operation was so tight that very little was caught. The only thing Shamron is sure of is that a known Palestinian terrorist, Tariq al-Hourani, was behind the assassination. Tariq and Gabriel’s history goes back a long way, and it’s a personal thing between them. Tariq blames Gabriel for the death of his brother, and Gabriel knows Tariq is responsible for the car bomb that killed his son. Shamron dangles being able to finally catch Tariq in front of Gabriel to get him to come back to the intelligence agency. Gabriel agrees, as long as he’s allowed to pick his own team.

Sarah Helavy is a French Jew, whose father was hidden as a baby during the war. She is also a model with a career that is starting to decline. That career, however, allowed her to also move about the world without being questioned. Shamron recruited her, and she has worked with Gabriel before. They had a relationship after a job in Tunisia which accounted for the reason Gabriel’s wife and son were with him in Vienna when Tariq blew up the car.

Gabriel calls on Sarah again. They know of one of Tariq’s operatives in London and think she can get close to him, while posing as a secretary for an art dealer. Sarah is more motivated by her love for Gabriel than anything else, although the money helps.

There is so much intrigue going on in The Kill Artist that I didn’t figure it all out until the end, which was a good thing. I thought I knew what was going to happen, but I kept getting surprised. There are real-life leaders in the novel, as well as convenient characters created for the story. This is not the beginning of Gabriel’s story, but it tells the reader a lot about him. At first, it seems that losing his wife and son was a straightforward assassination, but the novel slowly reveals the details surrounding the actual event that make it more complicated. Gabriel blames himself as much as he blames Tariq.

Sarah’s life as a fashion model seems to be the perfect cover, and she’s done a lot for Shamron in that role, but she’s 33 now and the jobs are starting to dry up. She’s blown through all of her money and is looking to settle down to a more quiet life. She wished Gabriel wanted to be part of that life, but that’s not likely to happen. Still, this “one last job” could leave her set up pretty well financially. Shamron specifically doesn’t seem to care what she goes through emotionally for their cause. Her job is pretty much to sleep with men to get information, regardless of how she feels about it.

The mission takes them all over Europe, the Middle East, and North America. It’s an exotic spy thriller with more depth to those involved than most movies have. Gabriel isn’t just this book. He’s already had a life of intrigue and thrills that he doesn’t want anymore, but Shamron knows what it will take to draw him back in. Shamron has few scruples when it comes to creating the intelligence agency he envisions, nor does he have qualms about manipulating people to do what he wants.

I found The Kill Artist to be well-paced and well-written. It kept me coming back to read, and I thought about what was happening when I wasn’t reading it. The characters were fully developed, although I felt like some of what they were was rather superficial. Silva tells us the misgivings Gabriel has, although he seems to be the only one who considers the impact their actions will have on other people. Shamron doesn’t care about collateral damage, and it would seem that Gabriel once felt the same way. Losing his family has changed him. He wants to retire into a world where he doesn’t have to think of these things and life is much simpler. However, much like the Mafia in The Godfather, the Intelligence service keeps dragging him back in.

I do recommend The Kill Artist if spy thrillers are something you enjoy. It has a real enough feel to it, and it’s compelling with its arguments with real-life implications about who is really the good guy and who is the bad guy. The lines do seem to blur and no one is sure anymore who fired the first shot that caused all of the problems- they just know they hate each other. All in all, it’s excellently written.

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