Another polished and entertaining thriller from the prolific Silva, this one tracking dark secrets in Vatican City.
To widely held suspicions that Pope Pius XII was complicit in the Holocaust, Silva adds a compelling premise: What if Pope John Paul’s successor, here the fictional Pope Paul VII, made information public proving that Pius XII and the Vatican colluded with the Nazis? (The author notes in a postscript that the Vatican Secret Archives, currently sealed off to historians, may house documents that verify the alleged collaboration.) A swirl of intrigue, pursuit, and assassination is set spinning in the wake of Paul VII’s threat. First, someone murders Professor Benjamin Stern in Munich. Investigators there blame neo-Nazis, but Israel’s secret intelligence agency thinks something more sinister is afoot. They send art restorer and hit man Gabriel Allon (The Kill Artist, 2000; The English Assassin, p. 15) to investigate. Moving from Germany to Italy and England (in a series of sharply observed scenes), Allon learns that Stern, at work on a book, had uncovered information about Pius XII’s trafficking with the Germans during WWII. Crux Vera, a brotherhood secretly operating within the Vatican, will kill to suppress these revelations. So when Crux Vera discovers that Allon is on their scent, they want him taken out and dispatch the Leopard, a professional assassin who finds that killing whets his appetite for kinky sex (“‘Politics . . . does make for strange bedfellows,’” Katrine, the Leopard’s partner, observes post-tryst). But when Allon evades the Leopard, Crux Vera targets the Pope himself, who is poised to address a convocation of Jews in Rome. A suspenseful assassination scene, replete with surprising reversals, caps the chase, with Allon and the Leopard emerging free to stalk and elude each other once again.
Familiar material, for sure, but powered by steady pacing, keen detail, and a strong, ironic finish.