DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of Daniel Silva’s The Messenger


Author (or Editor):  Daniel Silva

Title:  The Messenger

Fiction? Yes

Publisher:  G. P. Putnam

Date:  2006

ISBN:  0-399-15335-7

Series Name: Gabriel Allon

Physical description: hardbound, 338 pgs

Relevance to doaskdotell: speculative terror scenarios

Review:  This novel is one of a series based on spy Gabreil Allon, whose official profession in life is art restorer. The title is interesting, as in Islam the Prophet Mohammed is Allah's "messenger," and we have a phrase in our culture, "shoot the messenger." There was a controversial film about the biography of "the Messenger" in the mid 1970s called "The Message." Is that what Silva means here?

Before getting to the main premise, let’s notice a couple of things. It makes sense for a spy to be an everyman, somebody who has an everyday “real job.” In one of my novels, the spy is a mid thirties heartthrob looking man with his own stable family who works publicly just as a long term substitute teacher? That ought to raise questions, and it will as the family becomes challenged. Art restorer is a good field for this, because, as the book points out, terrorists can launder money through art dealings, and Dan Brown has written a lot about how the art world can cover up conspiracies. Clive Barker has a comparable character, Gentle, in his massive 1991 novel Imajica, who is an art forger.

Here the premise is indeed most terrifying. The Vatican itself becomes the target of an Al Qaeda-like plot. Early on, there is a rocket attack on St. Peter’s Square, and the Pope escapes, but hundreds of worshippers (“infidels” in the eyes of the terrorists) do not. The novel, in four parts, goes all over the world tracking down The Plot. The Church, of course, is in a duplicitous position. In the middle ages, it was guilty of the most heinous corruptions and simony, and today its utopian moral position is seen as oppressive to many, and overly collectivist to others. The priesthood is under enormous attack because of its hypocrisy and scandal. Yet, it was the Catholic Church, and Pope John, that secretly bring apart the unraveling of the old Soviet Union.

Silva presents an interesting historical subtext of 19th Century painter Vincent Van Gogh, who had the stereotyped "artist" introversion and was a social outcast (and that may be a stereotype indeed), whose family wanted nothing to do with his work when he died, who (according to the novel) was forbidden, in a letter, to paint a particular lady Marguerite, shortly before his suicide. This little episode does suggest the idea that artists often have problems with social context, with others feeling that their attention to certain people or certain subjects is inappropriate. 

 Gabriel goes on a "night journey," tracking "Sarah," who has an "Apprentice" style job interview on a pleasure boat in the Caribbean with a Saudi sheikh, and actually "gets" the job, which would require a lot of intrusion on her person. Indeed, she goes through some tribulations of her own, losing her dinner a couple of times, before being taken back to Europe. There will be a showdown with a US presidential visit to the Vatican, and some surprising interventions. The novel does go into some Vatican institutions (like the Swiss Guards) and a lot of details about the way Islamic charities do money laundering.


Related: John Updike: Terrorist;  Clive Barker: Imajica   Film: The Message


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