The Secret Servant

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

After many years as a journalist, Daniel Silva launched his highly successful career as an espionage novelist with The Unlikely Spy (1997), a World War II thriller. Beginning with The Kill Artist (2000), Silva has created one of the most popular spy series ever. After three novels focusing on the legacy of the Holocaust, the Gabriel Allon books have shifted their concern to international terrorism.

In The Messenger (2006), the middle-aged art restorer turned reluctant spy and assassin tackled a billionaire Saudi suspected of financing al-Qaeda. With The Secret Servant, Allon, “the legendary but wayward son of Israeli intelligence,” has to deal not only with terrorism but also with increasing pressure to take charge of Israeli intelligence. Allon does not want to be the boss, seeing his true calling as a restorer of paintings by Italian old masters, and longs to retire to Italy. Israeli intelligence considers art restoration a good cover, not an occupation for a serious man.

Silva uses Allon’s other calling as more than a plot device. While art restoration figures less in The Secret Servant than in any of the previous books, it is constantly lurking in the background, an indication of the spy’s divided nature. By extension Silva uses Allon’s cover to suggest something universal about people’s impulses both to the contemplative life and a more chaotic one, the thin line between being a destroyer or a protector.

The events of The Secret Servant are set in motion by Solomon Rosner, a sociologist who operates the Center for European Security Studies at the University of Amsterdam and produces reports on the rise of militant Islam within the Netherlands’ borders. Professor Rosner, whose grandparents were sent to Auschwitz, has warned in his latest book of the efforts to turn the country into a Muslim-dominated state, a view widely attacked by the Dutch press. Though Silva was once a journalist and his wife, Jamie Gangel, is a National Broadcasting Company (NBC) reporter, he presents the news media negatively several times in The Secret Servant. Of an NBC reporter, someone tells the president of the United States, “I’m not sure she has a pulse, let alone a sense of patriotism.”

Rosner is murdered, in circumstances recalling the 2004 killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, and Allon is summoned by Uzi Navot, chief of Israeli intelligence’s special operations unit, to Amsterdam to clean out the professor’s files so that no link with his secret employers can be found. If Rosner’s activities are revealed, Dutch Jews will be at great risk. Allon’s task is all the more difficult because he has been banned by European intelligence services for violent acts detailed in the previous novels.

In Amsterdam, Allon is approached by Ibrahim Fawaz, an Egyptian exile who supplied Rosner with information about Muslim activities. From Ibrahim, Allon learns about Samir al-Masri, an Egyptian who has come to Amsterdam to foment violence. Ibrahim’s information sends Allon to London, “the epicenter of European Islamic extremism.” He alerts British authorities to a potential threat but is too late to prevent Samir from kidnapping Dr. Elizabeth Halton, the physician daughter of American ambassador Robert Carlyle Halton, during an attack killing three hundred people.

As the goddaughter of the president of the United States and a vocal supporter of his war in Iraq, Dr. Halton is more than just another political hostage. If Sheikh Abdullah Abdul-Razzaq, a fundamentalist political prisoner, is not released in a week, she will be killed. This demand is merely a ploy, however, by Sheikh Tayyib Abdul-Razzaq, the prisoner’s brother, who wants to start a revolution in Egypt.

The rest of The Secret Servant involves the effort to find out who is behind the kidnapping and where Dr. Halton is being held, as Allon unravels the complex motivations of the group called the Sword of Allah and the part played by the mysterious figure known as the Sphinx. Because the Sphinx always seeks revenge against those who arrest or kill his men, Allon is at the top of his hit list. The human side of the dilemma becomes clearer when the situation pits Ibrahim against his son, Ishaq, and when Allon is torn over having to endanger the innocent to achieve his objective.

The Allon of The Secret Servant differs a bit...

(The entire section is 1821 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 3)

Booklist 103, no. 18 (May 15, 2007): 5.

The Jerusalem Post, September 21, 2007, p. 29.

Library Journal 132, no. 9 (May 15, 2007): 84.

Los Angeles Times, July 29, 2007, p. R8.

Publishers Weekly 254, no. 21 (May 21, 2007): 32.

The Washington Post, August 20, 2007, p. C3.