Gabriel Allon is once again in Venice living a quiet life with Chiara, who is expecting twins. He is a year away from taking control of the Office as director. Gabriel fills his days by restoring a Veronese altarpiece in the Church of San Sebastiano, but once again trouble comes calling when Julian Isherwood is sent by a friend with all expenses paid to Lake Como to the house of a British expatriate turned art smuggler, only to find the man tortured and dead. In exchange for not implicating Julian in a scandal, General Ferrari of the Italian Carabinieri Art Squad (introduced in The Fallen Angel) blackmails Gabriel into searching for a missing Caravaggio stolen in 1969.
And so starts the adventure of a lifetime when Gabriel, following the trail of the deceased, discovers several important things: 1) the man was a former British spy gone rogue, 2) there was a cache of famous paintings in his house at the time of his death, 3) the man was brokering a deal with an anonymous, powerful client who wanted the Caravaggio masterpiece.
Gabriel enlists the help of hitman Christopher Keller (who first appeared in The English Assassin and we got to know better in The English Girl), who once spared Gabriel’s life, resides in Corsica and works for Don Orsati’s business of oil export and revenge for money, to “steal” another masterpiece and sell it in the black market to the same prospective buyer of the Caravaggio. What they discover is that a certain dictator in the Levant has been acquiring stolen, otherwise unattainable, art and hiding his massive, plundered assets in banks the world over for a rainy day.
Naturally, Gabriel goes back to the Office to plan the heist of a lifetime and hopefully recover the Caravaggio as well.
I really liked The Heist. Though it is a somewhat convoluted story and perhaps overly complicated—by the end I hardly remembered the connection between the Syrian ruler and the quest for the Caravaggio--, it is well concocted and very satisfying. It took me almost two weeks to read it in spite of being a page turner.
One gets a history lesson involving Syria and the Assad ruling family, who have made headlines not only for the ongoing civil war tearing the country apart, but for the use of poison gas against its population and getting away with it.
There were passages describing Caravaggio’s life that brought to mind The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr; apparently Silva consulted the book while doing research for The Heist. I regretted having read Jonathan Harr long ago when I first started writing reviews because I don’t remember the story that well, or Caravaggio’s bio for that matter. It was a nice touch on Silva’s part to expand a little about his life and works and why it’s so important to preserve his legacy as well as any other masterpiece, otherwise they may disappear never to be found again.
Silva remarks that stolen art serves as underground currency for all sorts of criminal transactions and that the more famous the art piece, the better the odds are of finding it.
In summary, though convoluted, The Heist is another great entry in the Gabriel Allon saga, a satisfying ride with lots of learning on the side.