Boomer espionage novelist celebrates 20 years of success

Daniel Silva has been called the baby boomer generation’s finest writer of international intrigue. He is unquestionably one of America’s great spy novelists. In the last twenty years — ever since leaving a post in TV news — Silva has written twenty novels, one a year, and nearly all have been awarded #1 status as New York Times bestsellers. This year we have Daniel’s latest in his “Gabriel Allon” series of thrillers. It’s called “House of Spies,” and Silva shares a special excerpt for readers of BoomerCafé.

KING SAUL BOULEVARD, TEL AVIV

For something so unprecedented, so fraught with institutional risk, it was all handled with a minimum of fuss. And quietly, too. That was the remarkable thing about it, the operational silence with which it was carried out. Yes, there had been the dramatic announcement broadcast live to the nation, and the splashy first Cabinet meeting, and the lavish party at Ari Shamron’s lakeside villa in Tiberias where all the friends and collaborators from his remarkable past—the spymasters, the politicians, the Vatican priests, the London art dealers, even an inveterate art thief from Paris—had come to wish him well. But otherwise it came to pass with scarcely a ripple. One day Uzi Navot was seated behind his large smoked-glass desk in the chief’s office, and the next, Gabriel was in his place. Absent Navot’s modern desk, mind you, for glass wasn’t Gabriel’s style.

Daniel Silva

Wood was more to his liking. Very old wood. And paintings, of course; he learned quickly he could not spend twelve hours a day in a room without paintings. He hung one or two of his own, unsigned, and several by his mother, who had been one of the most prominent Israeli artists of her day. He even hung a large abstract canvas by his first wife, Leah, which she had painted when they were students together at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. Late in the day, a visitor to the executive floor might hear a bit of opera—La Bohème was a particular favorite—leaking from his door. The music could mean only one thing. Gabriel Allon, the prince of fire, the angel of vengeance, the chosen son of Ari Shamron, had finally assumed his rightful place as chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service.

But his predecessor did not go far. In fact, Uzi Navot moved just across the foyer, to an office that in the building’s original configuration had been Shamron’s fortified little lair. Never before had a departing chief remained under the same roof as his successor. It was a violation of one of the most sacred principles of the Office, which mandated a clearing away of the brush every few years, a tilling of the soil. True, there were some former chiefs who kept their hand in the game. They wandered into King Saul Boulevard from time to time, swapped war stories, dispensed unheeded advice, and generally made a nuisance of themselves. And then, of course, there was Shamron, the eternal one, the burning bush. Shamron had built the Office from the ground up, in his own image. He had given the service its identity, its very language, and considered it his divine right to meddle in its affairs as he saw fit. It was Shamron who had awarded Navot the job as chief—and Shamron who, when the time had finally come, had taken it away.

But it was Gabriel who insisted Navot remain, with all the perquisites he had enjoyed in his previous incarnation. They shared the same secretary—the formidable Orit, known inside King Saul Boulevard as the Iron Dome for her ability to shoot down unwanted visitors—and Navot retained the use of his official car and a full complement of bodyguards, which provoked a bit of grumbling in the Knesset but was generally accepted as necessary to keep the peace. His exact title was rather vague, but that was typical of the Office. They were liars by trade. They spoke the truth only among themselves. To everyone else—their wives, their children, the citizens they were sworn to protect—they hid behind a cloak of deception.

When their respective doors were open, which was usually the case, Gabriel and Navot could see one another across the foyer. They spoke early each morning by secure phone, lunched together—sometimes in the staff dining room, sometimes alone in Gabriel’s office—and spent a few minutes of quiet time in the evening, accompanied by Gabriel’s opera, which Navot, despite his sophisticated Viennese lineage, detested. Navot had no appreciation for music, and the visual arts bored him. Otherwise, he and Gabriel were in complete agreement on all matters, at least those that involved the Office and the security of the State of Israel. Navot had fought for and won access to Gabriel’s ear anytime he wanted it, and he insisted on being present at all important gatherings of the senior staff. Usually, he maintained a sphinxlike silence, with his thick arms folded across his wrestler’s chest and an inscrutable expression on his face. But occasionally he would finish one of Gabriel’s sentences for him, as if to make it clear to everyone in the room that, as the Americans were fond of saying, there was no daylight between them. They were like Boaz and Jachin, the twin pillars that stood at the entrance of the First Temple of Jerusalem, and anyone who even thought about playing one against the other would pay a heavy price. Gabriel was the people’s chief, but he was still the chief and he would not tolerate intrigue in his court.

Not that any was likely, for the other officers who comprised his senior staff were thick as thieves. All were drawn from Barak, the elite team that had carried out some of the most storied operations in the history of a storied service. For years they had worked from a cramped subterranean set of rooms that had once been used as a dumping ground for old furniture and equipment. Now they occupied a chain of offices stretching from Gabriel’s door. Even Eli Lavon, one of Israel’s most prominent biblical archaeologists, had agreed to forsake his teaching position at Hebrew University and return to full-time Office employment. Nominally, Lavon oversaw the watchers, pickpockets, and those who specialized in planting listening devices and hidden cameras. In truth, Gabriel used him in any way he saw fit. The finest physical surveillance artist the Office ever produced, Lavon had been looking over Gabriel’s shoulder since the days of Operation Wrath of God. His little hutch, with its shards of pottery and ancient coins and tools, was the place where Gabriel often went for a few minutes of quiet. Lavon had never been much of a talker. Like Gabriel, he did his best work in the dark, and without a sound.

A few of the old hands questioned whether it was wise for Gabriel to load up the executive suite with so many loyalists and relics from his glorious past. For the most part, however, they kept their concerns to themselves. No director general— other than Shamron, of course—had ever assumed control of the Office with more experience or goodwill. Gabriel had been playing the game longer than anyone in the business, and along the way he had collected an extraordinary array of friends and accomplices. The British prime minister owed his career to him; the pope, his life. Even so, he was not the sort of fellow to shamelessly collect on an old debt. The truly powerful man, said Shamron, never had to ask for a favor.

But he had enemies, too. Enemies who had destroyed his first wife and who had tried to destroy his second as well. Enemies in Moscow and Tehran who viewed him as the only thing standing in the way of their ambitions. For now, they had been dealt with, but doubtless they would be back. So, too, would the man with whom he had last done battle. Indeed, it was this man who occupied the top spot on the new director general’s to-do list. The Office computers had assigned him a randomly generated code name. But behind the cipher-protected doors of King Saul Boulevard, Gabriel and the new leaders of the Office referred to him by the grandiose nom de guerre he had given himself. Saladin…They spoke of him with respect and even a trace of foreboding. He was coming for them. It was only a matter of time.

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