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The English Assassin, Daniel Silva, G P Putnam's Sons, 2002, 383 pp
Summary from Goodreads: When art restorer and occasional Israeli agent Gabriel Allon is sent to Zurich, Switzerland, to restore the painting of a reclusive millionaire banker, he arrives to find his would-be employer murdered at the foot of his Raphael. A secret collection of priceless, illicitly gained Impressionist masterpieces is missing. Gabriel's handlers step out of the shadows to admit the truth-the collector had been silenced-and Gabriel is put back in the high-stakes spy game, battling wits with the rogue assassin he helped to train.
In his second book of the Gabriel Allon series, Daniel Silva takes us to Switzerland. Gabriel has been sent on a supposed art restoration assignment to the home of private banker Augustus Rolfe in Zurich, only to find the man dead. As it turns out, Rolfe had requested the Israeli espionage office to send him a representative, so Gabriel had been dispatched by his longtime handler Shamron, the ruthless spymaster who calls on Allon when he needs something particularly dangerous carried out.
Gabriel lands in a Swiss jail, breaking the foremost rule: "Don't get arrested!" Soon enough he is embroiled in a case of stolen Jewish art, with a crooked Swiss cop and another crazed assassin as his enemies. Of course, Rolfe has a daughter, a world famous concert violinist, whom Gabriel must protect.
The English Assassin gets off to a much quicker start than the first book, The Kill Artist. I suppose this is because Gabriel's backstory is already known to anyone who has read the former book. However, that backstory is lightly filled in so this one could be read alone.
One reason I like spy thrillers is for the knowledge I get about history and political issues that are not always found in history books or the news. I of course knew that the Nazis had stolen money, jewels, and art from Jews during WWII. What I learned in this novel was the extent to which Swiss bankers were implicit in these crimes. In addition, the private Swiss banking system works on another more secretive and well-protected level which still obstructs the recovery of these thefts.
This was a suspenseful read. So much so, that I had to keep reminding myself that there are 14 more books in the series, meaning that Gabriel must have lived through all the scenes in which I was certain he would not survive.
One more surprising aspect was the way several characters changed throughout the story and committed acts of atonement. Appropriate reading for the period of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur during which I read it.
(The English Assassin is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)