Art History With a Side of Murder

As I was reading The English Assassin by Daniel Silva I couldn’t help but think, now this is how I like learning history. The history of Switzerland and its involvement in Hitler’s theft of European art and the financial support of the Nazi party is the background to the 2003 novel.

I knew about Hitler’s desire to have an art museum in his hometown in Austria because I’ve heard the rumor that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre might be a fake and that the real one is now either in a private collection somewhere or blown up. What I did not know is that Hitler had a dislike for the Impressionists and that many of the paintings stolen from Jewish private collectors ended up in Swiss vaults and that the Swiss were more than happy to look the other way of the Nazi’s atrocities for financial gain.

I came upon Daniel Silva late last year as one of his more recent Gabriel Allon novels was available as an audiobook from the library. I listened to it almost constantly after downloading it. I was transfixed and knew I needed to start the series from the beginning.

If you aren’t familiar, Gabriel Allon is an art restorer and retired assassin for an Israeli intelligence service known as the Office. Allon while not necessarily happy in his retirement is content to stay in a small cabin in England with his paintings and his demons as one line in the second novel puts it. Allon’s wife and child were victims of a car bombing by a Palestinian terrorist seeking revenge for Allon’s murder of his brother.

The books are peppered with information on European art, history, architecture, music, and other interesting facts. While it isn’t as much information as one would get in reading a biography of Pissaro or Picasso it does have information on their lives and works, and it is more fun to learn from an espionage thriller than it is from an art history book.

This is a series that I want to try and finish this year. As I am only on my third book of 22 or so it will be a daunting task seeing as I have several other series and books I fish to finish as well, but these are quick reads. they aren’t challenging novels despite all the tangents into art history, music theory, and education on the Holocaust.

I find the worldbuilding by Silva to be almost as interesting as the plot of the novel itself, and perhaps why I am so drawn to this series. I enjoy learning about art, history, music, and other cultures which is all part of the backdrop of Gabriel Allon’s adventures.

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