The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone – Book

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone – Book

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone follows Kate Moore and her husband Dexter from a stay in Luxembourg in his first novel The Expats, where things started out calmly and went pretty badly off the rails. Kate worked for the US government in intelligence but, of course, it’s a secret. Dexter got lured into a scheme to hack a fortune in dirty money and his law-abiding wife finds out. She finds a way to keep Dexter out of prison but at the end of Chris Pavone’s first book, The Expats, the Moore’s marriage is a bit stormy – a very quiet storm because they are barely speaking.

After Luxembourg they travel around Europe for a while with their two children and then they settle in Paris minus the other expat couple they befriended in Luxembourg, a couple Kate hopes is out of their lives forever. Kate’s two children are now school age and she wishes she could enjoy being a full time mom, but life with the agency is just too exciting. What else would she do all day while her children are in school? And now she has been given her own little agency office to run in Paris.

Dexter works at home. He has decided to become a day trader. But it turns out that everyone, except Kate who is busy with her motherhood guilt, has revenge on their minds, and it all leads to one spectacularly messy day in Paris. If this day didn’t involve the deaths of two single fathers, a terrorist attack that immerses Paris in chaos, and threatens to nuke the Louvre it would most resemble one of those French hotel comedy/murder mysteries where everyone is sneaking in and out of everyone else’s room, sometimes with hanky-panky on their minds, and luggage is getting mixed up while people wander around in extravagant outfits and identities get confused. Perhaps to update the genre a bit this is a sort of thriller version of that Barbara Streisand movie “What’s Up Doc?”. Sadly the actual events in Paris seem a bit inappropriate to what is basically a romp, but such are the paradoxes here in the 21 st century and it is after all a thriller/romp.

The author’s chapters focus in turn on the characters, each telling his/her part of the story in small glimpses. You know that the facts will eventually give you the whole picture. You start to see or think you see through this plot – the author has left too many clues, the affair is too easy to unravel, but don’t become overconfident. There are plenty of surprises.

The Paris Diversion is not at all like a true thriller, but it is a true diversion that uses realities that have become far too normal to us. Throughout this whole crazy day the adults are having, the Moore children are safe in a good French school behind a high wall and at the end of the day will suspect nothing. How bad can things get in the space of someone’s slightly elongated school day? You won’t believe it.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Parnassus Musings

The English Assassin by Daniel Silva – Book

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I have just finished reading the second book in the Gabriel Allon series, The English Assassin by Daniel Silva. One of the things that separates the Gabriel Allon series from other spy thrillers is that Gabriel works for Israeli intelligence. He is often considered such a good spy because he can kill without getting too emotional about it. In fact, critics say he may not have blood in his veins, which, I guess, is a way to say he is too robotic, or workmanlike. In the spy thrillers I have read, the best agents are not necessarily warm, cuddly individuals. Gabriel actually seems, to me, a bit more human than some agents who use a more military model. But he is a loner, and does not ever put together a permanent team. He actually has an adversarial relationship with many of the other members of the Office. Gabriel doesn’t create an ersatz family, unless a bunch of old curmudgeons qualify.

Another thing that separates the Allon series from other thrillers is Allon’s talent as an art restorer. Gabriel always says that he would like to restore art and not be a killer of bad guys. He blames the man who turned him into his protégé in the spy trade – Ari Shamron who runs the Office on King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Gabriel has some affection and plenty of hostility for Shamron. Shamron changed the path of Gabriel’s life, made him a spy instead of a painter. Gabriel always fools himself into believing that each case is his last. However, his conscience convinces him to take on project after project. But even more often Shamron convinces (bribes) him to take a case. In the case of Augustus Rolfe, Anna Rolfe, and the missing Impressionist paintings, Shamron gets Gabriel to investigate the matter using false pretenses.

We are made aware of the role bankers in Switzerland played in a war where they allegedly remained neutral. Because they were the world’s bankers, with accounts guaranteed as secret, they accepted money, art, jewels, gold, and anything valuable from German leaders who were members of the Nazi government – Jewish valuables stolen from citizens they knew they intended to gas. When the Nazi’s lost the war, the Swiss did not give the valuables back because the transactions were still supposedly protected by privacy laws. But the banks, Silva contends, often came to believe that these spoils of genocide and war were theirs. When one such Swiss banker, Augustus Rolfe, the very one Shamron sent Gabriel to meet, is found dead, Gabriel is arrested and thrown into a cell in Zurich even though logistically he could not be the murderer. Shamron hears of this and gets him out. He sends Gabriel off to meet Anna Rolfe, a famous violinist, whose father is the dead banker. Through Anna, Allon finds out about the large and illegal collection of Impressionist paintings owned by her father. Anna needs to be protected. After all, her father was murdered in his own salon. The paintings must be found. A secret group in Switzerland (the Council of Rütli) exists solely to make sure these paintings are not found.

A second assassin, one who trained under Gabriel for a while, is killing anyone connected with this painting chase. Christopher Keller, who most people think died in the SAS, is very much alive, living on Corsica and killing whoever the Orsati family wants him too. (The Orsatis do believe in justice but this time they are on the wrong side. Keller switches side, and stops killing the good guys.) He decides he wants to kill the same awful men that Gabriel kills. This may explain how Gabriel gets out of the clutches of Otto Gessler alive so he can retire to Cornwall to recover from his injuries and restore works of art until Shamron intervenes once again.

The English Assassin has a fairly convoluted plot with lots of traveling involved. But there is satisfaction in the possibility that the recovered works of art will be returned to the original owners or their offspring, if anyone in the owner’s family is still alive. While this thriller is fictional, art stolen by Germans in WWII really has been found and returned when possible. This amazing story has been told again and again since some of the caches of paintings have been found, and it always feels like justice.

Whether there is really a shadowy group of Swiss bankers whose key goal is to keep the cruelly appropriated wealth stored in the vaults and cellars in their banks, or even in their houses, I do not know. It certainly fits with what we know of human greed.

 

Be sure to look for me on goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson.

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva – Book

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I finally managed to find the first book in the Gabriel Allon series, only to find out that this book refers back to three prequels, including one about an operation to avenge the deaths at the Munich Olympics. These books are not in the Allon series but they offer explanations for the events in The Kill Artist which is considered the first book in the series. In 1996, Silva wrote The Unlikely Spy, in 1998 he wrote the Mark of the Assassin, and in 1999, The Marching Season.

The events that caused the death of Gabriel’s son and the maiming of his wife – events that haunt Gabriel’s dreams and inform his current activities, happened because Allon had killed two members of a family of Palestinian terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Tariq al-Hourani, Gabriel’s target in The Kill Artist, is the man who placed the bomb that blew up Gabriel’s family, as he watched helplessly. Tariq is also a Palestinian, related to the two terrorists killed for their murders in Munich, his car bombing an act of revenge.

(Many readers, sympathetic to the needs of Palestinians, find this plot line unpalatable. It is true that readers of thrillers don’t want to dwell on the Israeli-Palestinian divide. But after these early books, Silva is not always focused on righting wrongs (imagined or real) of Palestinian “terrorists” against Jews. If this was the axe that was ground by the author through every book, his work would not be so popular. Silva chooses to address diverse forms of the terror humans perpetrate against each other.)

Another interesting element to note in Silva’s books is his female characters. They are usually strong, beautiful, and driven by some injustice or injury in their past. Silva creates his spy, Gabriel, who trusts women to be as talented and ruthless as men, given the proper training, and using their existing motivations to exact justice. Although he sometimes sleeps with these talented beauties, they know he doesn’t love them and they know he will not let them be victimized if he can prevent it. These women bear no grudges against the handsome spy who has lost his family, although considering how almost every operation ends, they would, if they knew, probably be less inclined to cooperate.

Tariq al-Hourani is a brutal guy but he is dying. Gabriel uses a woman, born Jewish but raised by a French family; a woman whose parents were murdered by the Nazis at Sobibor. She is Sarah Halévy, but her French name is Jacqueline Delacroix. She has her own reasons to help Gabriel assassinate al-Hourani. Things, as usual, go terribly awry but Gabriel is the one who ends up with a bullet in his chest. This is not really a spoiler because we never wonder if Allon will be hurt, only how it will happen. Roaming around the best bits of Europe with Gabriel Allon is always a nerve-wracking adventure. But this book begins and ends in one of my favorite Gabriel locations, an isolated cottage in Cornwall, England.

Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva – Book

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In Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva, when a Russian journalist dies in the arms of Gabriel Allon, an Israeli operative, at the Basilica in Rome, Gabriel’s highest level friends in the Vatican are not thrilled. Gabriel had a meeting with this, now dead, reporter who had something to tell him. Gabriel is not thrilled either. He was on his honeymoon in Umbria and he does not want any part of this. But it’s a mystery that involves injustice, assassination, and perhaps more; clarion calls that Allon can never fail to answer. Gabriel immediately knows his honeymoon is over.

Ops inside Russia, especially in Moscow, are rarely undertaken by any nation’s spy agency, let alone the Israelis. Moscow plays by its own rules. What is supposed to be a quick in and out excursion, under a false identity, to talk with Olga Sukhova, another journalist, goes badly awry when Gabriel decides to outstay his team. Moscow rules say, “Assume every room is bugged and every telephone monitored. Assume every person you encounter is under opposition control. And don’t look back. You are never completely alone.” And yet he defies his boss and friend Ari Shamron and stays. Guess how that turns out.

In these days when we talk about Russia every day, the information the author gives us about Russia is very familiar to us. Olga tells Gabriel, “To understand Russia today, you must understand the trauma of the nineties. Everything we had, everything we had been told, was swept away. We went from superpower to basket case overnight. Our people lost their life savings, not just once but over and over again. Russians are paternalistic people. They believe in the Orthodox Church, the State, the Tsar. They associate democracy with chaos. Our president… uses words like ‘managed democracy’ and ‘State capitalism’ but they’re just euphemisms for something more sinister, fascism.”

Gabriel’s Russian op does not stay in Russia. He learns that the man our reporters were so worried about is a very wealthy Russian oligarch who is very well guarded. Olga tells Gabriel exactly why this particular oligarch is so dangerous and exactly how he has stepped over a “red line” to pursue a business deal that must be stopped.

In Moscow Rules you can read about the plan Gabriel comes up with to flush him out. Since we know that Gabriel’s plans do not go smoothly, find out how he messes up this time. Find out if his new wife is still speaking to him after he never gets back to the honeymoon. It’s a very satisfying Gabriel Allon book. It has all the characteristic parts of the pattern readers expect when they throw in their lot with the Israeli Secret Service and their painterly operative, who manages, despite the powerful people he chases down, to get some of the worst players off the world  stage. I think you will find that it also resonates with the situation we find ourselves in today, vis a vis Russia. Serendipity.

The Messenger by Daniel Silva – Book

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I seem to have summer fever. Instead of reading nonfiction with serious content, I have wandered back to lighter fare. Since I am of the firm conviction that even fiction that entertains is not necessarily cheerful and may even encompass some social commentary, my idea of a frivolous summer book may not be the same as yours. I often click on lists of summer reading suggestions that other people love to post online and their choices almost never conform with mine.

I had previously read two books by Daniel Silva in the Gabriel Allon series. I decided to try to finish up that series this summer. What I discovered is that there are 17 books in this series so far. Silva has written one a year since 2000, only missing 2001 and 2012. It was my idea to read them in order but I am finding that that is difficult if I want to use the library, so out-of-order it is. I will include a list of all 17 books at the end of this post, however. The Messenger was first on my summer agenda. A few words about Gabriel Allon. Mr. Allon may be a stone killer when necessary but he never kills without good reason. He is a good guy, a rescuer, a green-eyed weapon trained by the Israeli Secret Service at King Saul Boulevard and he is at the peak of his talents. He might have been a world class painter if he had not been recruited by his mentor Shamron. Instead he is a first class restorer of famous paintings when he is not following up on intel about some criminal who intends to wreak havoc on whatever part of the world that the miscreant perceives as an enemy.

The villain in The Messenger is a terrorist behind the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and a man who has managed to stay hidden in plain sight by changing his appearance (which has rarely been glimpsed and almost never photographed) and by being under the protection of the very rich Zizi al-Bakari, who funds terrorists but has never been caught at it. Gabriel hates terrorists and, even when he promises his wife he will not get involved he cannot help himself. Gabriel has a whole team of operatives who we also get to know, although not in any great detail. In this particular book we meet Sarah, an American girl who lost her fiancé on 9/11. Sarah has a degree in art and she is no trained operative but she agrees to take part in this plan to catch Zizi and the terrorist he hides. Gabriel’s team is not on board with using Sarah in this dangerous op.

Gabriel’s plans are often quite audacious because the people he is after are so good at evading capture. His plans often center around what he knows best, famous works of art. And Gabriel’s plans almost never go smoothly. They go awry in often spectacular fashion and people get hurt and they die. Gabriel takes a beating in every one of these adventures in keeping the world safe from really bad guys that I have read so far. Sometimes he is not even completely recovered from the last op before it is time for a new one, but he is no bruiser. He is a thin guy approaching middle age who strikes people he meets as very sincere and serious, and who relies on guns more often than his fists. He’s likable but it’s hard to pin down why. When each plan goes off the rails and Gabriel is roughed-up or nearly killed once again I get angry at him for being unable to plan and execute a perfect op. However it is good to see someone who is human in scale beat some of the super bad actors that Gabriel pursues and he always wins in the end, although he never gets much credit. Governments are happy with his results but not with the chaos and mayhem that precedes the rough justice. Gabriel is not a rule follower and that is why he is always in trouble.

2000  The Kill Artist

2002  The English Assassin

2003  The Confessor

2004  A Death in Venice

2005  Prince of Fire

2006  The Messenger

2007  The Secret Servant

2008  Moscow Rules

2009  The Defector

2010  The Rembrandt Affair

2011  The Fallen Angel

2013  The English Girl

2014  The Heist

2015  The English Spy

2016  The Black Widow

2017  House of Spies

2018  The Other Woman