Book Review: The Rembrandt Affair by Daniel Silva

When generating sequels, authors develop a recognizable template for stamping out their stories. The public demands it. Publishers require it. The ribbons around the literary tent pole must be familiar. Predictable. Safe. But I don’t like reading form letters. Give me variety. Be original. Take a risk. So I was pleased to discover that Daniel Silva’s The Rembrandt Affair—the tenth novel by the author featuring legendary Israeli assassin Gabriel Allon—satisfied both my craving for something fresh and this die hard fan’s desire to hang out with old friends.

The first half of the book unfolds like a detective novel rather than an international spy thriller. Gabriel Allon is well and truly retired, living with his lovely young wife in peaceful seclusion. All is quiet until an old acquaintance enlists his to help solve a crime: an art heist gone bad.

But this is a Gabriel Allon book. Allon’s familial team of Mossad agents must make an appearance. As must familiar allied spies from the CIA and MI6. The public demands it.  The publisher requires it.

So Allon’s investigation leads him to discover a network of European technology firms that are covertly supplying Iran with reactor centrifuges needed to build nuclear weapons. Time to call in the cavalry. Silva completes the book like a violin master drawing new melodies from his classic instrument.

Firearms do not play as large a role in The Rembrandt Affair as in the previous books. The only named weapons are 9mm SIG P226 pistols worn by agents of a private Swiss security company.

Jonas Brunner [of Zentrum Security] watched as his three best men marched Gabriel Allon into the trees, then marked the time.  Five minutes, he’d told them.  Not too much damage, just enough bruising to make him compliant and easy to handle.  A part of Brunner was tempted to join in the festivities.  He couldn’t. Müller wanted an update.

He was dialing Müller’s number when a movement in the trees caught his attention.  Looking up, he saw a single figure walking purposefully out of the shadows.  He glanced at his watch and frowned.  He’d ordered his men to be judicious, but two minutes was hardly enough time to do the job right, especially when it involved a man like Gabriel Allon.  Then Brunner looked at the figure closely and realized his mistake.  It was not one of his own men coming out of the trees.  It was Allon… In his hand was a gun, a SIG Sauer P226, the standard-issue sidearm of Zentrum Security.  The Israeli ripped open Brunner’s door and pointed the barrel of the gun directly into his face.  Brunner didn’t even think about reaching for his weapon.

“I’m told you speak German, Jonas, so listen carefully.  I want you to give me your gun.  Slowly, Jonas.  Otherwise, I might be tempted to shoot you several times.”

Brunner reached into his jacket, removed his weapon and handed it to the Israeli butt first.

The book is not as radically different as I might have hoped, but it played upon all of the right notes. Silva is one of the best authors currently writing in this genre; his tragic hero is perhaps the most interesting.

Silva might be wrapping up the series with this book. I have not read or heard an announcement from the Silva camp, but it seems clear. Consider:

  • This is the first and only book in which the renowned assassin does not kill anybody.
  • Allon’s first wife, who was maimed by a bomb blast and now spends her days mainlining Thorazine and talking to plants in a mental institution, does not make an appearance in this book (another first).
  • Meanwhile, Allon has completely committed to his new wife as symbolized by the fact that he now allows her to watch him paint.
  • The intrigue as to whether Allon would become his secret agency’s director is demonstratively over.
  • The books ends with Allon disappearing into the rays of a setting sun (a.k.a. riding into the sunset), a symbolic passing.

As with all of the books in the series, The Rembrandt Affair is not the amped-up, breathless, cliff-hanging, nail-biter that some overly enthusiastic reviews claim. To the contrary, the tempo is thoughtful and measured. Readers are compelled to turn pages because the characters are compelling, the plot is entertaining, and they feel like they’re learning something new.  While this volume is light on firearms, most gun enthusiasts will find it worthwhile read.

[The Rembrandt Affair goes on sale on July 20, 2010. Advanced review copy of book provided by Penguin Group (USA).]

[*UPDATE* to this book review here.]

[Book Review: The Defector by Daniel Silva]