When an art restorer is murdered and a portrait by Rembrandt is stolen, Gabriel Allon is pulled into a race across the globe against a group of powerful men who will do anything to keep the truth about the painting hidden...
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Daniel Silva is the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Unlikely Spy, The Mark of the Assassin, The Marching Season, The Kill Artist, The English Assassin, The Confessor, A Death in Vienna, Prince of Fire, The Messenger, The Secret Servant, Moscow Rules and The Defector. He is married to NBC News Today correspondent Jamie Gangel. They have two children, Lily and Nicholas. In 2009 Silva was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
PORT NAVAS, CORNWALL
By coincidence it was Timothy Peel who first learned that the stranger had returned to Cornwall. He made the discovery shortly before midnight on a rain-swept Wednesday in mid-September. And only because he had politely declined the persistent entreaties from the boys at work to attend the midweek bash at the Godolphin Arms up in Marazion.
It was a mystery to Peel why they still bothered to invite him. Truth be told, he had never cared much for the company of drinkers. And these days, whenever he set foot in a pub, there was at least one intoxicated soul who would try to badger him into talking about "little Adam Hathaway." Six months earlier, in one of the most dramatic rescues in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Peel had plucked the six-year-old boy from the treacherous surf off Sennen Cove. The newspapers had crowned Peel a national hero but were then dumbfounded when the broad-shouldered twenty-two-year-old with movie-idol looks refused to grant a single interview. Peel's silence privately annoyed his colleagues, any one of whom would have leapt at the chance for a few moments of celebrity, even if it meant reciting the old clichés about "the importance of teamwork" and "the proud traditions of a proud service." Nor did it sit well with the beleaguered residents of West Cornwall, who were always looking for a good reason to boast about a local boy and stick it to the English snobs from "up-country." From Falmouth Bay to Land's End, the mere mention of Peel's name invariably provoked a puzzled shake of the head. A bit odd, they would say. Always was. Must have been the divorce. Never knew his real father. And that mother! Always took up with the wrong sort. Remember Derek, the whiskey-soaked playwright? Heard he used to beat the lad. At least that was the rumor in Port Navas.
It was true about the divorce. And even the beatings. In fact, most of the idle gossip about Peel had a ring of accuracy. But none of it had anything to do with his refusal to accept his role as hero. Peel's silence was a tribute to a man he had known only briefly, a long time ago. A man who had lived just up Port Navas Quay in the old foreman's cottage near the oyster farm. A man who had taught him how to sail and how to repair old motorcars; who had taught him about the power of loyalty and the beauty of opera. A man who had taught him there was no reason to boast simply for doing one's job.
The man had a poetic foreign-sounding name, but Peel had always thought of him only as the stranger. He had been Peel's accomplice, Peel's guardian angel. And even though he had been gone from Cornwall for many years now, Peel occasionally still watched for him, just as he had when he was a boy of eleven. Peel still had the dog-eared logbook he had kept of the stranger's erratic comings and goings, and the photos of the eerie white lights that used to glow in the stranger's cottage at night. And even now, Peel could picture the stranger at the wheel of his beloved wooden ketch, coming up the Helford Passage after a long night alone on the sea. Peel would always be waiting in his bedroom window, his arm raised in a silent salute. And the stranger, when he spotted him, would always flash his running lights twice in response.
There were few reminders of those days left in Port Navas. Peel's mother had moved to Bath with her new lover. Derek the drunken playwright was rumored to be living in a beachfront hut in Wales. And the old foreman's cottage had been completely renovated and was now owned by posh weekenders from London who threw loud parties and were forever yelling at their spoiled children. All that remained of the stranger was his ketch, which he had bequeathed to Peel the night he fled Cornwall for parts unknown.
On that rainy evening in mid-September, the boat was bobbing at its mooring in the tidal creek, waves nudging gently against its hull, when an unfamiliar engine note lifted Peel from his bed and carried him back to his familiar outpost in the window. There, peering into the wet gloom, he spotted a metallic gray Range Rover making its way slowly along the road. It came to a stop outside the old foreman's cottage and idled a moment, headlamps doused, wipers beating a steady rhythm. Then the driver's-side door suddenly swung open, and a figure emerged wearing a dark green Barbour raincoat and a waterproof flat cap pulled low over his brow. Even from a distance, Peel knew instantly it was the stranger. It was the walk that betrayed him—the confident, purposeful stride that seemed to propel him effortlessly toward the edge of the quay. He paused there briefly, carefully avoiding the pool of light from the single lamp, and stared at the ketch. Then he quickly descended the flight of stone steps to the river and disappeared from view.
At first, Peel wondered whether the stranger had come back to lay claim to the boat. But that fear receded when he suddenly reappeared, clutching a small parcel in his left hand. It was about the size of a hardcover book and appeared to be wrapped in plastic. Judging from the coat of slime on the surface, the package had been concealed for a long time. Peel had once imagined the stranger to be a smuggler. Perhaps he had been right after all.
It was then Peel noticed that the stranger was not alone. Someone was waiting for him in the front seat of the Rover. Peel couldn't quite make out the face, only a silhouette and a halo of riotous hair. He smiled for the first time. It seemed the stranger finally had a woman in his life.
Peel heard the muffled thump of a door closing and saw the Rover lurch instantly forward. If he hurried, there was just enough time to intercept it. Instead, in the grips of a feeling he had not known since childhood, he stood motionless in the window, arm raised in a silent salute. The Rover gathered speed and for an instant Peel feared the stranger had not seen the signal. Then it slowed suddenly and the headlamps flashed twice before passing beneath Peel's window and vanishing into the night. Peel remained at his post a moment longer, listening as the sound of the engine faded into silence. Then he climbed back into bed and pulled his blankets beneath his chin. His mother was gone, Derek was in Wales, and the old foreman's cottage was under foreign occupation. But for now, Peel was not alone. The stranger had returned to Cornwall.
Though the stranger did not know it, two disparate series of events were by that night already conspiring to lure him back onto the field of battle. One was being played out behind the locked doors of the world's secret intelligence services while the other was the subject of a global media frenzy. The newspapers had dubbed it "the summer of theft," the worst epidemic of art heists to sweep Europe in a generation. Across the Continent, priceless paintings were disappearing like postcards plucked from the rack of a sidewalk kiosk. The anguished masters of the art universe had professed shock over the rash of robberies, though the true professionals inside law enforcement admitted it was small wonder there were any paintings left to steal. "If you nail a hundred million dollars to a poorly guarded wall," said one beleaguered official from Interpol, "it's only a matter of time before a determined thief will try to walk away with it."
The brazenness of the criminals was matched only by their competence. That they were skilled was beyond question. But what the police admired most about their opponents was their iron discipline. There were no leaks, no signs of internal intrigue, and not a single demand for ransom—at least not a real one. The thieves stole often but selectively, never taking more than a single painting at a time. These were not amateurs looking for quick scores or organized crime figures looking for a source of underworld cash. These were art thieves in the purest sense. One weary detective predicted that in all likelihood the paintings taken that long, hot summer would be missing for years, if not decades. In fact, he added morosely, chances were extremely good they would find their way into the Museum of the Missing and never be seen by the public again.
Even the police marveled at the variety of the thieves' game. It was a bit like watching a great tennis player who could win on clay one week and grass the next. In June, the thieves recruited a disgruntled security guard at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and carried out an overnight theft of Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath. In July, they opted for a daring commandostyle raid in Barcelona and relieved the Museu Picasso of Portrait of Señora Canals. Just one week later, the lovely Maisons à Fenouillet vanished so quietly from the walls of the Matisse Museum in Nice that bewildered French police wondered whether it had grown a pair of legs and walked out on its own. And then, on the last day of August, there was the textbook smash-and-grab job at the Courtauld Gallery in London that netted Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by Vincent van Gogh. Total time of the operation was a stunning ninety-seven seconds—even more impressive given the fact that one of the thieves had paused on the way out a second-floor window to make an obscene gesture toward Modigliani's luscious Female Nude. By that evening, the surveillance video was required viewing on the Internet. It was, said the Courtauld's distraught director, a fitting end to a perfectly dreadful summer.
The thefts prompted a predictable round of finger-pointing over lax security at the world's museums. The Times reported that a recent internal review at the Courtauld had strongly recommended moving the Van Gogh to a more secure location. The findings had been rejected, however, because the gallery's director liked the painting exactly where it was. Not to be outdone, the Telegraph weighed in with an authoritative series on the fin...
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