Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


The Secret Servant by Daniel Silva








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Daniel Silva has reprised the multi-talented Gabriel Allon for the seventh novel in this spy thriller series, The Secret Servant. There’s plenty of action, and more than a light dose of preachiness from the aging Allon. There’s horror, intrigue and it takes Allon to get things done by placing himself in personal danger. There’s no art restoration as a counterpart in this novel as was the case in earlier books. That will appeal to fans of non-stop heroic action. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 2, “Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel,” pp. 10-14:


What are you doing here, Uzi?” Gabriel asked. “You’re the boss now. Bosses don’t make midnight airport runs. They leave that sort of work to the flunkies in Transport.”

“I had nothing better to do.”

“Nothing better to do than hang around the airport waiting for me to come off a plane from Rome? What’s wrong? You didn’t think I’d really come back this time?”

Uzi Navot didn’t respond. He was now peering through the one-way glass window of the VIP reception room into the arrivals hall, where the other passengers from the Rome flight were queuing up at passport control. Gabriel looked around: the same faux-limestone walls, the same tired-looking leather couches, the same smell of male tension and burnt coffee. He had been coming to this room, or ver­sions of it, for more than thirty years. He had entered it in triumph and staggered into it in failure. He had been feted in this room and consoled by a prime minister; and once, he had been wheeled into it with a bullet wound in his chest. But it never changed.

“Bella needed an evening to herself,” Navot said, still facing the glass. He looked at Gabriel. “Last week she confessed that she liked it better when I was in the field. We saw each other once a month, if we were lucky. Now. . .“ He frowned. “I think Bella’s starting to have buyer’s remorse. Besides, I miss hanging around in airport lounges. By my calculation I’ve spent two-thirds of my career waiting in air­port terminals, train stations, restaurants, and hotel rooms. They promise you glamour and excitement, but it’s mostly mind-numbing boredom with brief interludes of sheer terror.”

“I like the boring parts better. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a bor­ing country?”

“But then it wouldn’t be Israel.”

Navot relieved Gabriel of his leather garment bag and led him out into a long, harshly lit corridor. They were roughly equal in height and walked with the same purposeful gait, but the similarities ended there. Where Gabriel was angular and narrow, Navot was squat and powerfully built, with a round, turretlike head mounted atop wrestler’s shoulders and a thick waist that attested to an affinity for heavy food. For years Navot had roamed western Europe as a katsa, an undercover case officer. He was now chief of Special Operations. In the words of the celebrated Israeli spymaster An Shamron, Spe­cial Ops was “the dark side of a dark service.” They were the ones who did the jobs no one else wanted, or dared, to do. They were ex­ecutioners and kidnappers, buggers and blackmailers; men of intel­lect and ingenuity with a criminal streak wider than the criminals themselves; multilinguists and chameleons who were at home in the finest hotels and salons in Europe or the worst back alleys of Beirut and Baghdad. Navot was new to the job and had been granted the promotion only because Gabriel had turned it down. There was no animosity between them. Navot was the first to admit he was a mere field hand. Gabriel Allon was a legend.

The corridor led to a secure door, and the door to a restricted area just off the main traffic circle outside the terminal. A dented Renault sedan stood in the reserved parking place. Navot opened the trunk and tossed Gabriel’s bag inside. “I gave my driver the night off,” he said. “I wanted a word in private. You know how the drivers can be. They sit around down there in the motor pooi all day with nothing to do but gossip. They’re worse than a sewing circle.”

Gabriel got into the passenger seat and closed the door. He looked into the backseat. It was stacked with Bella’s books and files. Bella was an academic who specialized in Syria and drifted in and out of government service. She was far more intelligent than Navot, an openly acknowledged fact that had been a source of considerable tension in their long and turbulent relationship. Navot started her car with a hostile twist of the key and drove it too hard toward the air­port exit ramp.

“How did the painting turn out?” he asked.

“It turned out just fine, Uzi.”

“It was a Botticelli, wasn’t it?”

“Bellini,” Gabriel corrected him. “Lament over the Dead Christ.” He might have added that the sublime panel had once formed the cyma of Bellini’s remarkable altarpiece in the Church of San Francesco in Pesaro, but he didn’t. The fact that Gabriel was one of the world’s finest art restorers had always made him the target of professional envy among his colleagues. He rarely discussed his work with them, even with Navot, who had become a close friend.

“Botticelli, Bellini—it’s all the same to me.” Navot shook his head. “Imagine, a nice Jewish boy like you restoring a Bellini masterpiece for the pope. I hope he paid you well.”

“He paid me the standard fee—and then a little more.”

“It’s only fair,” Navot said. “After all, you did save his life.”

“You had a hand in it, too, Uzi.”

“But I wasn’t the one who got his picture in the paper doing it.”

They came to the end of the ramp. Overhead was a blue-and-white traffic sign. To the left was Tel Aviv, to the right, Jerusalem. Navot turned to the right and headed toward the Judean Hills.

“How’s the mood at King Saul Boulevard?” Gabriel asked.

King Saul Boulevard was the longtime address of Israel’s foreign intelligence service. The service had a long name that had very little to do with the true nature of its work. Men like Gabriel and Uzi Navot referred to it as “the Office” and nothing else.

“Consider yourself fortunate you’ve been away.”

“That bad?”

“It’s the night of the long knives. Our adventure in Lebanon was an unmitigated disaster. None of our institutions came out of it with their reputations intact, including the Office. You know how these things work. When mistakes of this magnitude are made, heads must roll, the more the better. No one is safe, especially Amos. The Com­mission of Inquiry wants to know why the Office didn’t realize Hezbollah was so well armed and why our vast network of well-paid collaborators couldn’t seem to find Hezbollah’s leadership once the fighting started.”

“The last thing the Office needs now is another power struggle and battle for succession—not with Hezbollah gearing up for an­other war. Not with Iran on the verge of a nuclear weapon. And not with the territories about to explode.”

“The decision has already been made by Shamron and the rest of the wise men that Amos must die. The only question is, will it be an execution, or will Amos be allowed to do the deed himself after a de­cent interval?”

“How do you know where Shamron stands on all this?”

Navot, by his edgy silence, made clear that his source was Shamron himself. It had been years now since Shamron had done his last tour as chief, yet the Office was still very much his private fiefdom. It was filled with officers like Gabriel and Navot, men who had been recruited and groomed by Shamron, men who operated by a creed, even spoke a language, written by him. Shamron was known in Is­rael as the Memuneh, the one in charge, and he would remain so until the day he finally decided the country was safe enough for him to die.

“You’re playing a dangerous game, Uzi. Shamron is getting on. That bomb attack on his motorcade took a lot out of him. He’s not the man he used to be. There’s no guarantee he’ll prevail in a show­down with Amos, and I don’t need to remind you that the door to King Saul Boulevard for men like you is one way. If you and Shamron lose, you’ll be the one who ends up on the street hawking your services to the highest bidder, just like the rest of the Office’s washed-up field men.


Fans of this series will devour The Secret Servant. Readers need not have read earlier books to enjoy this one. Be prepared for non-stop intensity throughout.


Steve Hopkins, August 25, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the September 2007 issue of Executive Times


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