How did I love thee When I counted the ways, I ended up with way more than 5 reasons. But since 5 stars is as high as most ratings go, that number will have to suffice - but it certainly isn't enough to do this book justice.
In the interests of full disclosure, Israeli intelligence chief Gabriel Allon ranks No. 1 on my top 10 list of all-time favorite book "heroes" - a place he's held for quite a few years now. This is his 18th appearance, and I'll say with no hesitation that he's in no danger of being knocked off that lofty perch any time soon. Of course, he didn't get there all by himself; he had considerable help from the author, who created not only him, but a cast of other interesting characters and put them in the middle of intriguing stories that make me, at least, reluctant to put them down.
This one is no exception; in fact, I'd call it the best of the series I've read in recent years. Maybe that's because the story mirrors, at least to a certain extent, what's going on in the real world. Readers get more than a passing glimpse at the tenuous relationships among the intelligence communities of Israel, Great Britain and the United States as they all try to get the drop on the Russians and save their own reputations without stepping too hard on each other's toes.
The book begins with Gabriel in Vienna, where he and his cohorts are directing the defection of a known spy. Just as they're about to reel him in, he's unceremoniously murdered - and initial evidence points to Gabriel as the killer. While the tabloids keep the incident in the news, Gabriel and his team realize there must be a leak within their own ranks (in which agency remains for them to determine). So it is that they set out to "out" the mole, prove Gabriel's innocence and restore order to what's become an embarrassing situation that threatens to ruin already shaky alliances.
From that point on, the story gets more complex with even more far-reaching implications (all the way back to the 1950s and 1960s). Admittedly, therein may be one of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much; I'm old enough to remember the events that are such an integral part of this story. There's not much more I can reveal without giving too much away, though, except to say that the details are so intricately woven that as a whole it's totally mesmerizing. Oh, and one other thing: If you have but one book to read for the rest of this year, you won't go wrong if you make it this one.