Daniel Silva,
The Rembrandt Affair
(G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2010)

Gumbo is a uniquely Southern dish. Theories on the proper way to make it -- and the critical part, the roux -- abound. I have no doubt that there are families and friends that are no longer speaking over the right color and texture, and the proper spices involved in what makes a good gumbo. If you are a tourist in parts of the United States where this dish is prepared, be wary: you don't always get the real thing, and if you are friendly and well-bred enough, the locals will warn you off of the touristy places that sell gumbo that ain't the real deal.

So what does all this talk of gumbo have to do with Gabriel Allon? The question is an easy one for those who have read a few of Daniel Silva's many novels: Silva knows how to spice up the stories and the people with a genuineness and reality that makes the characters wholly human and alive, and Gabriel Allon is the real deal.

Master writer and brilliant, thoroughly researched as the newsman as he was, Silva's latest, The Rembrandt Affair, is a story about a stolen Rembrandt of questionable provenance that was "sold" in a Styronesque, Sophie's Choice manner from a wealthy Jewish prisoner to a Nazi "art collector" who covets said painting, in return for the life of one of the two daughters of said prisoner, and works a deal with the prisoner so that one child can live. As Silva points out so well, many art collections were stolen during World War II from those captured and murdered by the Nazis. A grim portrait is painted of the aid the "neutral" Swiss gave those who looted, pillaged and murdered their way to "ownership" of art that in many cases has not been seen again.

In The Rembrandt Affair Gabriel Allon, world-class spy, art restorer, beloved husband to Chiara and retired from "the Office," as Israeli Intelligence is known to those who are its heart, yields to a plea to find a lost Rembrandt, previously unknown, from his long-time friend, Julian Isherwood, an art dealer who provides services for the Office from time to time. This time, Julian is in desperate need of help. Reluctantly, but wholly committed to the project, Gabriel leaves his retirement home in Cornwall to track down the painting and find the persons involved in its theft and in the murder of the art restorer Julian had contracted with to restore the painting to its former glory.

While various parts of the world are engaged in David and Goliath battles, amid the complex relationships between the sons and daughters of Abraham, Gabriel Allon, as well as the seasoned group of expert friends with whom he has worked in other novels, use all their skills to bring to justice those involved in the theft of the painting. Silva has an enormous grasp of the many complex issues confronting the world today, and greed and evil are themes that recur in this as well as all of his Allon novels, the reader is not only given a precis of who Gabriel is, but is given key information that allows someone who has not read a previous Silva novel to completely engage with the story. Clearly, Silva knows what he is about, and truly knows how to season the gumbo the way it should be to ensure that all of us are fed. And then we want more.

book review by
Ann Flynt

19 February 2011

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