Prince of Fire

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

When terrorists blow up the Israeli embassy in Rome in Daniel Silva’s Prince of Fire, the Israeli prime minister tells Ari Shamron, his seventy-five-year-old, chain-smoking special adviser, that he wants the instigator’s head “on a stick.” Shamron immediately reaches Gabriel Allon in London, where Allon is en route from Venice to visit his wife, Leah, in a private psychiatric hospital in Surrey. Leah was wounded in a terrorist blast in Vienna, but Allon will not divorce her to marry his Italian lover, Chiara Zolli, daughter of the chief rabbi of Venice. Allon is a brilliant art restorer, currently working on Bellini’s San Giovanni Crisostomo altarpiece, an undertaking he abandons when Shamron arrives in Venice and orders him back to Jerusalem.

Shamron promptly assembles a team for Allon, led by an intelligence analyst known only as Yossi and a woman named Dina with a complete file of terrorist activities in her head. It is Dina’s acute instincts that lead Allon to Khaled al-Khalifa, and at this point the narrative switches back to Turkish-ruled Palestine in 1910. Khaled’s grandfather, Asad al-Khalifa, was a young man in the Jewish settlement of Petah Tikvah and a brutal criminal who robbed Jews and Palestinians alike. When the Arab Revolt broke out in 1936, Asad quickly became a nationalist and began a series of assassinations with his long, curved knife. By 1938, however, the revolt had destroyed itself by clan conflicts, and Asad was lying low in Damascus. In 1947 he was summoned by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of the Arab Higher Council, to lead a campaign of massacres until in 1948 he was tracked down in a cottage near Lydda and killed by the young intelligence officer Ari Shamron.

The story then picks up again with a flashback to Amman, Jordan, in June, 1967. There a young man approaches a Fatah recruiting officer and announces his name as Sabri al-Khalifa. He is Asad’s son, who proved a talented Fatah intelligence officer and a special favorite of Yasir Arafat. Sabri married a young Palestinian woman named Rima and they had a son born in September, 1970, an “ominous” date. When Arafat wanted revenge on the Jordanians, the Black September unit was created, with Sabri al-Khalifa as the de facto mastermind. After several bloody attacks on Jordanian officials in Cairo, London, and Bonn, as well as the murder in May, 1972, of twenty-seven people in Israel’s Lod Airport by Japanese Red Army terrorists acting for Black September, Sabri sent six Palestinian terrorists over the fence at the Olympic Village in Munich the following September. This daring act led to the deaths of eleven Israel athletes. Under Prime Minister Golda Meir’s orders, Ari Shamron was again assigned to kill a man named al-Khalifa. Shamron’s team, code-named Wrath of God, ferreted out and eliminated twelve of Sabri’s Black Septembrists, but Sabri himself remained alive. At this point, Gabriel Allon assumed the chase, tracing Sabri through his girlfriend to her flat in Paris, where Gabriel lay in wait and fired eleven shots into Sabri, one for each Olympic victim.

These events lie in the background of the Rome bombing, as it becomes clear to Gabriel’s team that it is Sabri’s son, Khaled al-Khalifa, virtually Arafat’s adopted son, who is now running the Palestinian terrorists. The astute Dina pulls all the strands together when she tells the story of the small Arab village of Beit Sayeed being dynamited by Israelis on April 18, 1948, at seven in the evening, the same date and hour of a truck bombing in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed eighty-seven people at a Shabbat meal, and of another car bombing at Istanbul’s main synagogue in 2003 that claimed twenty-eight lives. Moreover, Gabriel assassinated Sabri on March 4, the same date that Rome was hit. From this reconstruction, Dina deduces that Khaled al-Khalifa plans another attack in twenty-eight days, or on April 18.

Meanwhile, Khaled al-Khalifa, respected in his professional world as Paul Martineau, adjunct professor of archaeology at the University of Aix-Marseille III, is winding up his dig in Provence with his graduate student girlfriend, Yvette Debré, before driving the A51 Autoroute to Marseilles. Parking his Mercedes on the Boulevard d’Anthènes, Khaled walks to a coffee house in a dim neighborhood, where on the second-floor landing a man in a galabia gown throws open the door. The man greets him with Maa-salaamah, and Khaled answers, As-salaam alaykum.

Gabriel begins his mission with a trip to the Mukata, Yasir Arafat’s West Bank outpost in Ramallah. He is chauffeured by Shamron’s son, Yonatan, a colonel in the Israeli army, and they are greeted and led to Arafat by a one-eyed Palestinian...

(The entire section is 1939 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 5)

Booklist 101, no. 11 (February 1, 2005): 917.

Library Journal 130, no. 3 (February 15, 2005): 121.

The New Yorker 81, no. 4 (March 14, 2005): 137.

Publishers Weekly 252, no. 4 (January 24, 2005): 221.