As most international spy vs spy intrigue type thrillers are wont to do, Daniel Silva's thriller, "The English Assassin", moves from locale to locale across Europe with rather dizzying speed.
Silva's underlying premise to the story is the fact that Switzerland, while claiming neutrality during WW II, was actually considerably less than a mere sideline observer to the proceedings of the war. Indeed, it appears that not only were they willing participants in Nazi Germany's veritable raping and pillaging of galleries, personal collections, museums, churches and public buildings of the priceless art treasures they contained, but they were also private bankers and money laundering agents for the senior members of the Nazi elite. The aristocratic families of the Swiss banking oligarchy, having become unimaginably wealthy through this illicit relationship, will now do almost anything to prevent a modern world from exposing their sordid history and forcing the return of the ill-gotten art treasures and the related wealth to their rightful owners.
Gabriel Allon, one of the world's foremost art restorers (and, coincidentally, a member of the Israeli Secret Service) has been commissioned to restore a Raphael painting belonging to Swiss banker, Augustus Rolfe. When he arrives at Rolfe's home, he is shocked to discover that Rolfe has been brutally murdered and that he is the number one suspect in the crime. The Swiss police are unable to make the charges stick and when Allon is released with orders to leave the country and never return, he vows to investigate to discover who was responsible for such an obvious set-up and (you'll pardon the pun) frame job!
He returns undercover to Switzerland seeking to question Rolfe's daughter, Anna, a world famous violinist, and, as Sherlock Holmes put it so very often, the game was afoot! Allon and Rolfe are now the targets of a shadowy assassin hired by a secretive Swiss cabal of bankers who intend to ensure that the secrets of WW II remain locked in Swiss vaults and safe from prying outside eyes!
In Gabriel Allon, Daniel Silva has created a memorable hero with significant colour and depth that fans will want to follow further. In this particular story, the clever pairing of a reclusive art restorer with a moody, temperamental, world class concert violinist allows for an extremely interesting exploration of the arts world in Europe, from both historical and current points of view. While not quite at the level of travelogue, Silva's attention to detail in placing his action in various European cities provides an extra dose of reality and interest to a plot that is already quite satisfying.
"The English Assassin" is certainly more than workmanlike and, while I enjoyed it, I thought it less than spectacular. The genre of intrigue thrillers is a crowded one, indeed, and while it benefits from Silva's addition, "The English Assassin" is not a standout such as Ken Follett's "Eye of the Needle" or Jack Higgin's "The Eagle Has Landed".