‘The Heist’ one of Silva’s finest

By Walt Braun

The espionage-international thriller genre has few protagonists as memorable as Gabriel Allon. He’s not the biggest, the strongest or the fastest agent. He’s middle aged and then some, and except for his green eyes, he’s physically unimpressive. He is, however, entirely committed to his cause, which happens to be the defense of Israel.

Allon is a Mossad agent, but he’s more than an agent. He was a young agent in 1972 when Black September terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, and he was handpicked to hunt the killers down. He did. He’s smart, innovative, and versatile and can be ruthless. Though he hasn’t taken over yet, he’s agreed to lead Mossad in the near future, and he is as comfortable working with peers at MI6 and the CIA as he is organizing an operation.

Allon also is a well-known art restorer and is about to become a father for the second time, this time of twins. When “The Heist” opens, Allon is restoring a Veronese painting in Venice, a city he and his wife, Chiara, enjoy more than any other.

While high-end art heists are prevalent, the true heist involves billions of dollars that Allon endeavors to lift from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Only when individuals who might know the location of the Caravaggio heist — and suffer violent deaths because of that knowledge —  does it occur to Allon to try to create chaos within the Assad regime by stealing the ruler’s blood money.

To do that, he enlists the aid a woman born in Hama, Syria, in 1976. Her name is Jihan Nawaz.

She was one of the few survivors of the Syrian regime’s slaughter in 1982 of more than 20,000 residents of Hama. Not only does its population disappear but Hama itself is destroyed as reprisal for the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent acts against the regime of Hafez al-Assad, the father of the present ruler.

Nawaz, who ended up being shipped to Germany as a child and grew up there, is the accounts manager of a small bank in Linz. One of the bank’s owners is Waleed al-Siddiki, part of the Syrian regime whose assignment is to protect vast sums of the Alawite regime’s money to provide a cushion should one ever be necessary.

Nawaz hates everything having to do with Al-Siddiki or the Syrian regime, and she is easy prey for the deception Allon conjures up to win her support.

In short, he doesn’t tell Nawaz, a Muslim, who he and his colleagues are or that they work for the state of Israel.

She thinks he’s a German tax official looking into the bank’s business.

“The Heist” is Daniel Silva at his finest — and his succession of international bestsellers featuring Gabriel Allon has set the bar high indeed. The plot is layered and reflects not just the author’s imagination but his grasp of details as varied as painting techniques, high finance and computer science.

The characters — the new ones as well as those already familiar to Silva’s readers —are multidimensional and human.

The result is gripping and immensely satisfying entertainment.

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