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The Kill Artist

Reviewed: April 3, 2005
By: Daniel Silva
Publisher: Signet
448 pages (or 1686 screens), $10.99

While the title sounds like something out of a Mickey Spillane novel, The Kill Artist is a much more subtle piece of writing than that, weighing in somewhere between the late Robert Ludlum (yes, he's been dead a while, in spite of all those new bestsellers with his name on them) and John LeCarre.

The artist of the novel is Gabriel Allon, who is a retired Israeli assassin who specialized in killing terrorists. He hung up his guns after the brother of one of his targets blew up his wife and son. In his retirement he restores damaged masterpieces, in much the same way as he once used his other talents in what he saw as an attempt to restore justice to his homeland.

His final mission was in 1991. The novel takes place in a timeless now which has been bookmarked by the death of Yasir Arafat since it first appeared in 2000.

Arafat, on a peace mission to the United States, has been marked for death by his former Palestinian comrade in arms, Tariq al-Hourani, and Israeli intelligence would like to prevent that. They aren't entirely sure of the target, but the assassin has recently resurfaced, setting up an operation in his trademark manner, and embattled spymaster Ari Shamron (any resemblance to Ariel Sharon, Israel's current prime minister, would be entirely intentional in my opinion) wants his best and most trusted agent on the case.

As bait for Gabriel, Shamron also recruits a sometime agent named Jacqueline Delacroix, a French supermodel whose real name is Sarah Halevy. Sarah has worked for Mossad on occasion to honour the memory of her parents, who died in the Holocaust, and her last mission paired her with Gabriel, with whom she had a brief liaison in the heat of the operation. Now slightly past her prime as a model, she is lured into the spy game again by the chance to see Gabriel.

Gabriel has always felt that his family died for his sins. In a sense they did, since Tariq killed them in revenge for his brother's death, but for Gabriel the sin he means is his infidelity. Still, he accepts the mission as a means of furthering peace in the Middle East and getting back at Tariq. His conscience is able to justify a defensive operation.

That Gabriel and Sarah will become lovers again is telegraphed from miles away, but forestalled by her role in the mission. She is to become the mistress of one of Tariq's cronies and thus become an information conduit to Gabriel. This places inevitable strains on both of our two main characters. We spend quite a bit of time in each of their heads and we feel their pain as well as their sense of duty.

The other person with whom we spend a bit of time is Tariq, a totally driven man for whom the end justifies the means (unlike Gabriel and Sarah, who are never quite sure about that) and whose sense of mission is further amplified by the knowledge that he is dying. He has scores to settle and not much time.

What sort of a thriller would it be if the everyone's plans didn't go off the rails and place a few additional lives in jeopardy? Double dealing and deception dominate this thriller. It is safe to say that the conclusion of this novel is not at all what I expected it to be when I wandered into it.

Author Daniel Silva is apparently a former reporter for CNN, whose specialty was covering both Washington and the Middle East. He also seems to have some insight into the worlds of publishing, modeling and art, worlds which he portrays as being miniature versions of the larger conflicts which drive the plot.

The reference to "screens" in my heading reflects the fact that I read the book on my Palm handheld.

It arrived as a bonus, connected to another purchase I had made. I hadn't tried anything by Silva before, and the title actually put me off, but it turned out to be a good read after all.

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