He has the name of an angel and the hands of an artist.
He possesses the tortured soul of family man who once lost everything dear and the cunning tenacity of a cold-blooded killer.
He has stalked prey in exotic locales like Argentina and in terrorist breeding grounds like Egypt.
He has helped his creator, author Daniel Silva, become an annual fixture on the bestseller list.
All of that makes it remarkable that Silva originally planned to make his Israeli intelligence officer and art restorer, Gabriel Allon, a one-hit wonder.
Now, seven books later, Gabriel — who once again flirted with death in The Secret Servant — is honeymooning in Umbria with his new wife while restoring a painting for the Vatican at the beginning of Moscow Rules.
The honeymoon abruptly ends when a Russian journalist dies in Gabriel's presence while trying to pass on sensitive information about a black market sale of illegal weapons to Islamic jihadists.
The terrorists' targets: the United States and Israel.
The seller: a Russian, Ivan Kharkov.
Even a rogue like Gabriel, who has worked in some of the world's most insecure countries, seems hesitant to ply his trade in Russia. But he has little choice; the Moscow newspaper's new editor, Olga Sukhova, holds the first key to bringing down Kharkov.
The shadow of Russia's past looms large, and the Moscow Rules, a spy's survival guide, always apply:
"Assume every room is bugged and every telephone call monitored. Assume every person you encounter is under opposition control. And don't look back. You are never completely alone."
Gabriel finds Moscow a knotted mess of contradictions caught between Cold War values (the oppression of independent journalism, a government mired in corruption) and the new Russian oligarchs who throw their ill-gotten money around by purchasing million-dollar homes in Saint-Tropez and fine art.
In Moscow Rules, the author has a chance to explore a global double standard.
Silva's villain made his millions selling arms to war-torn Third World countries. But the plight of these impoverished countries is less important than when the same weapons are sold to terrorize the world's powerhouse nations.
And as the real world has changed (9/11, the London bombings, the murder of former Russian KGB operative Aleksandr Litvinenko), so has Gabriel's fictional personality.
In the eight years Silva has been writing the character, Gabriel has become more hard-edged and dogged — he no longer threatens to retire, because he knows the words are wasted. He also takes blatant chances and frequently deviates from a mission's script.
In the hands of a less skilled author, Gabriel's unexpected detours would simply provide page-turning dramatic tension, a fine addition to any spy novel. But under Silva, one of fiction's best espionage authors, those actions are more than just a simple plot device.
Gabriel, a flawed man haunted by internal demons, provides the author with a moral compass. This window into humanity allows the reader to understand why the deaths and betrayals surrounding each mission are necessary.
The how, a skillfully timed collection of puzzle pieces sliding into place, is the clever bonus in Silva's heart-pounding, high-stakes series.
Jennifer DeCamp can be reached at (727) 893-8881 or [email protected]