Lured away from his restoration of a Bellini mural by his old boss, spymaster Ari Shamron, Gabriel Allon travels from Venice to Munich to investigate the murder of Professor Benjamin Stern. Before his death, Stern, a former member of the Mossad turned academic, was working on an exposé about the Roman Catholic Church’s decision to remain silent during World War II while millions of Jews died in the gas chambers. Gabriel suspects Stern’s murder was the work of the Leopard, an elusive mercenary.
Allon’s search for the professional killer takes him to various European locales, including Rome. There he discovers that Crux Vera, a cabal of high-ranking Vatican officials, politicians, and financiers, hired the Leopard to silence Stern. As Gabriel digs deeper, he unearths evidence that Crux Vera plans to assassinate the pope to stop him from releasing classified Vatican documents which prove that members of Pius XII’s Curia collaborated with the Nazis. In one of several plot twists, Allon finds himself protecting the pope who is visiting a Roman synagogue, while across town the Leopard is making his escape after wreaking havoc in the Vatican. The final showdown between the two assassins five months later in Switzerland seems almost anti-climactic after the disclosure of surprise revelations that result from Gabriel’s quest.
A former United Press correspondent and CNN producer, Daniel Silva puts his journalistic skills to good use as he seamlessly weaves together fact, fiction, and supposition. His detailed descriptions of the neighborhoods and streets of Venice, Munich, and Rome read like a travelogue, and his characterizations, especially of Gabriel and the pope, are vivid. Although his harsh portrait of the Church bureaucracy may offend some Catholic readers, Silva’s novel is sure to spark renewed debate concerning the Church’s role in the Holocaust.