Given that he has written 15 novels of espionage and suspense, one might suspect that Daniel Silva is a stoic guy. All that saving the world, you assume, tends to harden a man. But even Silva gets attached, and killing off the characters he likes can reduce him to tears.
“I wept when I wrote that chapter,” Silva confesses, referring to the finale of his last book, the bestseller Portrait of a Spy. Even though “I knew it was coming from the beginning,” the novel’s death scene rattled him almost as much as it rattled his hero Gabriel Allon, who as art restorer, assassin, Israeli spy and scourge to terrorists is a Renaissance man for the dangerous 21st century.
Which is why in his new novel, The Fallen Angel (Harper, $27.99), Silva — who appears Thursday at the Coral Gables Congregational Church for Books & Books — treats Gabriel gently. At least at first. In The Fallen Angel Silva eases Gabriel back to work by opening the story at the Vatican, where he’s working on a Caravaggio masterpiece. A woman’s body has been found in St. Peter’s Basilica, and though Vatican police are using the word “suicide,” someone in high authority — some might call him infallible — wants an independent investigation.
Only in a Silva novel would investigating a death under Michelangelo’s splendid dome be considered “easing” into the meat of the story, but that crime seems almost quaint compared to the sort of murderous attacks Gabriel and his highly skilled colleagues in Israeli intelligence work to prevent. But The Fallen Angel is no conventional murder mystery; the plot’s ramifications stretch back to Europe and the Middle East in shocking and violent ways.
Silva is no purveyor of minimalism; his books have active plots and bold, dramatic themes. They cover a staggeringly wide range of subjects. In addition to murder and art restoration, The Fallen Angel dabbles in the antiquities trafficking trade, Vatican politics, organized crime, religious mythologies and histories, political realities — and, of course, the growing threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism and its desire for the destruction of Israel.
“You should have seen the pile of books in my office when I was working on this book,” Silva jokes now from his home in Washington. “What a weird combination of things.”
That “weird combination” has earned Silva repeated bestseller status and won him fans like President Bill Clinton, who calls Gabriel Allon his “favorite fictional character.”
The books are “hugely intelligent thrillers which give you an exciting plot and a page-turning story but have smart insights into contemporary politics in the Middle East,” says Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at Harper. “Daniel lives in D.C., and he’s deeply connected to the world of real politics and strategy. He knows a great deal about what’s going on in the corridors of power. You get the feeling there’s inside knowledge when you read the books.”
Silva, who was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 2009, is quick to point out that his books are fiction, “first and foremost a piece of entertainment.” But he acknowledges that many of his beliefs find their way into the pages. In Fallen Angel, Gabriel and his brethren worry about many of the same things that disturb Silva: the repercussions of the Arab Spring (“if Egypt goes from being a sort of friend to active opponent, probably a likely outcome, that’s going to be a challenge”); Germany’s close business ties with Iran (“it just makes me uncomfortable that Germany is so willing to embrace for commercial reasons this regime that openly preaches the Holocaust is a myth”); the influx of Muslim immigrants into European countries like the Netherlands and France (“The French have a serious problem with radicals on their soil who have taken hold among communities of decent people; the problem is complex and mutlifaceted”).