Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva

If it is July, it must be time for a new Daniel Silva book. And July, 2012 was no different. I finally have had a break in my "required" reading schedule to sink my teeth into The Fallen Angel, which has been teasing me from my to-read shelf for 7 months. Silva manages in his books a synthesis of plot twists, travel books, and art history. This book is no exception.

Gabriel Allon, the renowned art restorer and Israeli intelligence operative, is restoring a Caravaggio for the Vatican when he is summoned to St. Peter's Basilica. A woman's, Claudia Andreotti,  body has been discovered on the floor. Is it suicide or murder?  True to the spirit of Silva's novels, the incident is merely the tip of the iceberg and calls, once again, Allon out of retirement. He and his wife, Chiara, are thrust into the investigation that leads them to an operation that stretches from the Vatican to the Middle East, a side trip to San Moritz, from antiquities dealers to Hezbollah. There are infinite twists and plot thickeners that keep the reader nearly breathless as the pages turn.

In order to get to the root of the matter, that of course means the money trail, Allon summons the familiar cast to the safe rooms of King Saul Boulevard. They are Ari Shamron, Uzi Navot, and the erudite archaeologist, Eli Lavon. As the Pope makes an historic visit to Jerusalem on Good Friday, what is going on underground becomes even more earth-shattering, literally. The climax and denouement provide a guided tour of Temple Mount and perhaps the discovery of the first Temple of Jerusalem. What follows is shocking, heart-rendering, and pure Silva.

Daniel Silva remains one of my favorite authors to read. He never disappoints in his plot machinations. descriptive passages, or character development. He also seems to be clairvoyant in his political story lines. The involvement in The Fallen Angel of the Vatican bank and antiquities curation, seems to have foretold the scandal marking the end of Pope Benedict's reign. Silva is a master of research and attention to detail to which I am drawn. For this book, however, I really wished I would have had a map of the city of Jerusalem and its landmarks to help guide me along as I followed Allon and Lavon in their attempt to disarm the ticking time bomb. The book ends with a shocking conclusion that will make us wait until July 16, 2013 in The English Girl to unravel.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

As one whose reputation can polarize an audience, Bill O'Reilly has tried to transcend that position by writing a treatise on the last days of our 16th president. Killing Lincoln was a very readable account of the end of the Civil War with the description of the end strategies of the North, the spiraling descent of John Wilkes both into an obsession of assassinating Lincoln, and the tragic end of Lincoln's life.

The narrative alternates between Booth's movements, the ending battle plans of the Civil War and the actions of Lincoln. It is an interesting way of combining the events into a singular story and shows how the interactions influence each other. Booth's original plan and the one under which he conscripted his co-conspirators was to kidnap Lincoln. But as the plan was being put into motion, Booth's obsession escalated to assassination of Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson, and William Seward. Killing Lincoln concludes with the capture of Booth and the flurry of trials and executions of those who were ultimately connected with the plot. 

O'Reilly has been criticised for a number of errors in the book and his political motivation for painting a picture of Lincoln that exalts him with reverence. The errors do not seem as egregious to me as they did to Rae Emerson, deputy superintendent of Ford's Theater who banned the book from the shop at the historical venue. They are troubling for an erudite scholar of American history, to be sure. But one cannot help but think the reviews and banning are politically motivated. O'Reilly has since responded and changed the mistakes in subsequent publications of the book.

The book is fast-paced, an easy, fascinating, and interesting read. There are hints that Booth was part of a larger conspiracy that involved Edward Stanton. These theories have been passed around for decades and leads the reader to further investigation of the real history and there is nothing wrong with that. Combined with two recent movies, Lincoln and The Conspirator, Killing Lincoln, adds to the unending cache of materials surrounding a most disturbing time in the history of our country. There just isn't enough time to digest it all.