Elise Coop­er recent­ly spoke with Daniel Sil­va about the newest book in his Gabriel Allon series, The Heist, which was pub­lished in July 2014 by Harper.

Elise Coop­er: Why do you think Gabriel Allon is so popular?

Daniel Sil­va: He is a char­ac­ter with two dis­tinct sides, as an art restor­er and an Israeli intel­li­gence agent. He res­onates with peo­ple because he is a decent human being who is asked to do some dirty jobs over the years. That com­bi­na­tion of attrib­ut­es allows me to craft my sto­ries in a way that makes them very dif­fer­ent from most spy nov­els. Actu­al­ly, I had to be talked into writ­ing him as a series char­ac­ter; I was hes­i­tant because I was deeply con­cerned about the anti-Israeli sen­ti­ment and anti-Semi­tism in the world. Thank­ful­ly I was proven wrong, and I think we all are glad he is out there.

EC: You have a very pow­er­ful quote by Leah, Gabriel’s first wife: The snow absolves Vien­na of its sins. The snow falls on Vien­na while the mis­siles rain down on Tel Aviv.” Can you explain this observation?

DS: That is some­thing Leah said in the very first nov­el, before she was severe­ly wound­ed in a bomb­ing. Here she was in Vien­na, the coun­try that pro­duced Hitler, the Nazi lead­er­ship, and the Nazi machin­ery. She looked out and saw a beau­ti­ful snowy night in Vien­na while on the TV she saw mis­siles rain­ing down on Tel Aviv dur­ing the first Gulf War.

EC: Does Leah sym­bol­ize the hor­rors of terrorism?

DS: We must remem­ber that for every one of the attacks dur­ing the Intifa­da there were sur­vivors who lost limbs, eyes, and/​or had been bad­ly burned. Leah rep­re­sents some­thing very impor­tant: Gabriel is an art restor­er and can fix just about any­thing except her. It is very painful for him that he can nev­er make her right.”

EC: Gabriel also seems to want to redeem Christo­pher Keller, a for­mer British com­man­do turned pro­fes­sion­al assassin. 

DS: They are a clas­sic pair­ing: two tough, fun­ny guys who are always try­ing to one-up each oth­er. Gabriel tries to restore more than paint­ings — as I com­ment­ed about Leah, he wants to restore peo­ple. He does not believe it moral­ly right or appro­pri­ate for Keller to kill peo­ple for mon­ey, even if most of the time those peo­ple deserve to die.

EC: Your last few books have plots that go beyond the ter­ror­ist angle. Why?

DS: Last year in The Eng­lish Girl Gabriel under­took a search for a kid­napped British woman. In the pre­vi­ous book to that he was inves­ti­gat­ing an appar­ent death by sui­cide at the Vat­i­can. This is the beau­ty of the Gabriel char­ac­ter: I can write him doing all sorts of things.

EC: In The Heist you have a lot about art his­to­ry. Why?

DS: The first half of the sto­ry is very much an art book and deals with the famous miss­ing paint­ing by Car­avag­gio. I thought it would be inter­est­ing to dis­cuss who he is, why he paint­ed the way he did, and what his life was like. I hope read­ers found him to be a com­pelling, fas­ci­nat­ing, and amaz­ing char­ac­ter. I’ve want­ed to write about the miss­ing Car­avag­gio for many years. The loss of the paint­ing leaves a hole that can nev­er be filled.

EC: You refer to a Mid­dle East­ern despot indi­rect­ly steal­ing a lot of art. Why did you decide to write about this topic?

DS: The Arab Awak­en­ing showed the greed of the Arab dic­ta­tors. Hos­ni Mubarak, Muam­mar Kaddafi, and now the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment have accu­mu­lat­ed a huge amount of assets. I learned that find­ing these assets isn’t real­ly dif­fi­cult, but tying them to a ruler is very tricky. I have also been intrigued and angered that thieves have made off with mas­ter­pieces. I think there has been a ten­den­cy over the years to dis­miss art crime as some­thing roman­tic or a sort of a gentlemen’s game; the truth is, art crime is a big busi­ness. These stolen paint­ings can be used as a form of under­world cash.

EC: If I were to inter­view Gabriel, what would he say is the great­est dan­ger to Israel today?

DS: In its ear­ly days Israel had to face hos­tile Arab nation states. What we have now is what he would call AlQaedas­tan, a non-state actor and a belt of Sun­ni extrem­ism. If they get Weapons of Mass Destruc­tion they could inflict dev­as­tat­ing blows to Israel. Gabriel is real­ly wor­ried about it because he feels these groups will even­tu­al­ly turn their atten­tion to Israel, and is very pes­simistic about ever hav­ing peace.

EC: What would Ari Sham­ron, the leg­endary for­mer chief of Israeli intel­li­gence, say is the gravest dan­ger to Israel?

DS: He is very wor­ried about Iran. Pri­vate­ly he thought Israel could crip­ple Iran with a nuclear strike. He prob­a­bly would have rec­om­mend­ed it to the Prime Min­is­ter. He lost his fam­i­ly and lived through one Holo­caust and is not anx­ious to see anoth­er. He fears his life’s work of pro­tect­ing the State of Israel is in grave danger.

EC: What would you like the read­er to get out of The Heist?

DS: I’d like read­ers to be enter­tained and learn a lit­tle some­thing along the way. I have always been loathe to say what the read­er should take away from my work; what is unique about read­ing is that we see every char­ac­ter and every scene through the prism of our own lit­tle the­atre in our head. It is pri­vate. Books touch each of us in a unique way. I don’t want to intrude on that.

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.