The Kill Artist
Reviewed: April 3, 2005
By: Daniel Silva
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
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.