Title:Prince of Fire (the 5th of 9 Gabriel Allon novels)
Author: Daniel Silva
Publisher: Michael Joseph 
No. of pages: 366
When the Israeli Embassy in Rome is attacked by suicide bombers the Israeli Secret Service investigate. They discover that this attack is only one in a chain planned against Jewish targets and one of their former agents, Gabriel Allon who now works as an art restorer in Venice, is under threat of assassination as part of the campaign. Allon and his girlfriend, a field agent for the Service, are brought back to Israel where Allon becomes involved in the search for the terrorists.
The thriller is told in several distinct parts that roughly coincide with Allon’s movement from one country to another as he either leaves a place due to the risks he faces or enters a new country to go on the offensive. This starkly demonstrates the compartmentalised nature of his life and adds an intellectual dimension that isn’t present in many thrillers. The heart of the story, the search for one particular terrorist, is skillfully told and the incorporation of real figures into the fiction, such as a meeting between Allon and Yasser Arafat, add to the realistic feel of the story. As always though with this series the thriller element is only part of the content. The other is the provision of a sense, one view among millions, of the conflicts, dreams and sadness that have defined Arab/Israeli relations for decades. Towards the end of the book Allon has a conversation with his friend and mentor about the way Arabs within the borders of the newly partitioned Israel were dealt with in 1948 and it is saddening to realise how little things have changed in the intervening 60 years.
As well as good stories Silva writes some of the best male characters you’ll read in thrillers. Gabriel Allon is a marvellously layered person: artist, assassin, husband, chameleon. He’s always introspective but in this book he questions his own actions and those of the country he loves more than ever and it’s very thought provoking. Ari Shamron, former Director-General of the Service and now adviser and friend to Gabriel is a harsher warrior and provides a different kind of insight as well as much of the historical context regarding activities that take place. The female characters are less well developed although here there are glimpses of some quite intriguing women including one of the terrorists who is as psychologically damaged by her past as Allon is by his.
I have read most of the Gabriel Allon novels but for some reason have read them out of order. I have a quite disjointed view of the story threads that run across more than one book, but for the most part they are self-contained stories and they can be read independently.
Silva is a journalist by training and demonstrates something of a cross-over in skills. His writing is tight and while there is a real depth to his observations about the human condition he never forgets that to tell a story you have to keep people reading right to the end. Prince of Fire does this admirably.
My rating 4/5