Despite having rushed through the early Gabriel Allon series and already posted a review of the 7th book in the series, I decided to slow down, backtrack and review these gripping books in order.
Gave me an excuse to re-read them, too.
Thus it was with great pleasure that I headed back to the first book in this series about an Israeli assassin called Gabriel Allon, who is also one of the world’s foremost art restorers.
Gabriel is a man of many contradictions and of many different, seemingly unusual parts. A man who lovingly and painstakingly restores paintings in European Roman Catholic cathedrals. A man who kills those who kill Jews. And above all, he is a tormented soul, a man with a past that haunts him, and it is in the opening pages of the first book that we learn about the tragedy that overshadows his whole life and his soul and his very raison d’etre.
(But don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you here & spoil the plot). You will discover it for yourself, this tragedy that defines Gabriel.
The first time we meet Gabriel, an Israeli, a Jew, he is in a different world, but one in which he feels at home – a European Catholic church:
“The restorer raised his magnifying visor and switched off the bank of fluorescent lights. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the murkiness of evening in the cathedral; then he inspected a tiny portion of the painting just below an arrow wound on the leg of Saint Stephen…”
The beauty of religious art, the serene calm surroundings of ancient cathedrals are at distinct odds with the brutality that will shortly follow.
Religion is an intrinsic, inescapable part of the Gabriel Allon stories.
Gabriel and his colleagues in “the Office” are Jewish, though not necessarily practising Jews, in many cases.
But their Jewish identity and their mission to tackle the forces that wage war on their state and their faith, mean that faith, and morality, and religious intolerance, and religious extremism are issues with which they are daily confronted.
From peaceful Cornwall to nail-biting tension in Europe, Gabriel Allon makes a forceful entry into our lives, and as the success of this and the subsequent books has shown, he is a hero who touches our hearts.
And scares us at times with his ruthlessness.
And charms us with his kindness.
And moves us with his tragic past.