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The English Assassin

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English Assassin

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The English Assassin
By Daniel Silva
Signet (2003)
ISBN: 0451208188

This title is also available in Large Print

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - August 20, 2004

For all intensive purposes, Mario Delvecchio is who he appears to be - an Italian native living in England who is a gifted art restorer with a stellar international reputation for his ability to restore the faded glories of the old masters. He apprenticed under Umberto Conti, the master restorer of Venice, and ever since he has traveled the world honing his craft. However, despite his genius, the restorer is not all that he seems to be. For starters, his name isn't Mario Delvecchio, it's Gabriel Allon and he is a semi-retired Israeli spy and assassin who just happens to have an excellent cover due to his skills as an art restorer.

If Allon had his way, he would devote all his efforts to his restoration work, however events don't always give him the luxury of following in own desires. In The English Assassin Daniel Silva has crafted a well-wrought, complex plot that involves neo-Nazis, Corsican assassins, classical art and music, and modern events to delve into the story behind the hundreds of works of art that were looted from Jewish homes and business by Nazis during World War II and which found a new 'home' in Switzerland.

When Allon is hired to restore a painting owned by Augustus Rolfe, a Swiss banker and financier, he never gets to work on the painting he has been hired to restore. Upon arriving at Rolfe's estate, he finds his employer dead, and soon thereafter, he finds himself charged with the murder. Aided by Anna Rolfe, the financier's daughter, Allon attempts to discover who really killed Augustus Rolfe, and who stole his secret collection of looted art. Fast paced and intense, this story quickly explodes into a life and death struggle that leaves a string of bodies scattered across Europe as Allon and Anna try to uncover the truth behind the Swiss involvement in hiding looted Jewish treasures and the truth behind who really killed her father.

Not one to let his hero stop to breathe, Silva keeps Allon on the move, although he does allow him the odd second or two to develop a love interest in Anna, who is a self-destructive, eccentric, and beautiful violin virtuosos. Like the paintings that he restores, Anna is damaged. Her hand had been crushed and severely scarred, and when he first meets her she is only just beginning to play professionally again. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers that Allon has his own horrific scars, but unlike Anna's who scares are visible, Allon scars are on his soul.

The English Assassin is rich with unforgettable characters such as Ari Shamron, Allon's handler and mentor in the 'spy' business, Gerhardt Peterson, an officer in the Swiss Division of Analysis and Protection that seems bent on stopping Allon from learning the truth, and Anton Orsati, the head of a Corsican band of International assassins. Assassins (one of whom he helped train), personal demons, and institutionalized European antisemitism are but a few of the problems that Allon must overcome. These problems are compounded by the fact that he is working in a nation whose mantra is privacy - no matter what the cost. In addition, Allon must also contend with the mysterious Council of Rütli whose main mission appears to be to ensure that the looted art is never returned to its rightful owners and that Switzerland's collaboration with Nazi Germany remains forever hidden.

Older than most spys, the fiftyish Allon is a remarkably vigorous and engaging character. Silva amply explains the events in Allon's life that turned him from artist, to assassin and spy, and then to art restorer. As well, Silva clearly and logically explains the motivations and aims of all the main characters in the book. The well-wrought characters, combined with the complexity of the plot and the emotional intensity of the subject matter serves to create a mesmerizing and well-paced story that will have you holding you breath as Allon struggles to bring the truth to light.

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