Book 20 in the Gabriel Allon series is disappointing but don’t let that put you off reading the earlier novels because they are terrific.

The Order by Daniel Silva is Book 20 in the Gabriel Allon series. I’ve long been a fan of these. Okay, the back story is pretty preposterous but the stories themselves are page turners — exciting, interesting and (I think) well-written. I look out for the new ones and try to get them as soon as I can; and I sometimes re-read the ones on my bookshelves.

The background
Gabriel Allon is a world-renowned art restorer. Art restoration is his cover job. His sideline job is assassin and agent for Israeli security services. The only son of two survivors of the Holocaust he was recruited by Mossad as a young man to join the team that hunted and killed the Palestinian terrorists who murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Once that mission had been completed Allon became a part-time assassin, doing covert ops between his art restoration projects.

The early stories in this series are gripping and interesting; the last few books rather less so. But I’d decided this was probably because Allon is now older and has become head of the Israeli Security Service (reluctantly). I’m not sure which direction the series is going to go now but I hope Allon rediscovers his ‘mojo’ soon!

Book 20
The Order
starts well. Allon is on holiday in Venice with his family when it’s announced that the Pope has died. In earlier stories Allon has had dealings with the Pope and become good friends with him and his private secretary, Archbishop Luigi Donati. So, when Donati contacts Allon and says he suspect the pontiff has been murdered, Allon goes to Rome.

From that point the story turns into an archaeological mystery. It seems the Vatican archives had a copy of the Gospel of Pilate (that’s Pontus Pilate) which would cast new light on Christ’s trial and crucifixion.

The manuscript has been removed from the archives by a shadowy Catholic society called the Order of Saint Helena, which had a close relationship with Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. Currently financed by a reclusive German billionaire, it has several Catholic Archbishops as members and is now manoeuvring to have one of these elected as the next pope.

Allon and Donati decide to hunt the Gospel down, prove that the Order of Saint Helena had murdered the pope and expose their plot to ‘steal the papacy’. The action – what there is of it – isn’t terribly exciting and the path of the story is predictable. I was quite pleased to reach the end.

Why it doesn’t work
One of the reasons I usually enjoy these books — apart from the fact that they’re ripping good yarns — is that they are thought-provoking. They look at the world through Israeli eyes, albeit in an international context, so you’ll often be made to question what you think you know. Within his stories Silva attempts to explain some of the history and background to the Middle East conflicts, and does so with a light touch that makes them interesting to read.

But in The Order there’s too much discussion about biblical history, about Pilate, the Gospels and the origins of anti-Semitism. It’s not totally uninteresting but it detracts from the story and, at times, makes it feel as if you’re reading a text book.

The Gabriel Allon series
Don’t be put off trying this series on the basis of this review. But start with the early books, which are exciting and intricate thrillers. They are pacy and well plotted, and difficult to put down.

I’m not going to stop reading the Allon series but I won’t be quite as eager to get the next book as I have been. As far as The Order is concerned, I’m afraid I only give it 3-Stars and one of those might be down to reader loyalty.
Review by: Cornish Eskimo