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400 pages


A Death In Vienna is yet another thriller novel which takes advantage of the lazy writers axiom “When in doubt use the Nazis”. It would be useless to criticize the use of Nazis in a thriller as they have been pretty handy to have around for a long time and but one must wonder how many of them are actually left in the real world and are there enough of them to actually believe that an international conspiracy could be headed by them.  It's not that A Death In Vienna lacks skill in the telling, it is up to Silva's usual level of writing skill it's just that it all seems a bit easy this time around.

In Vienna a bomb goes off in the office of Wartime Claims and Inquiries killing two secretaries but missing the intended target the chief investigator of war crimes Eli Lavon.  Fans of Silva will of course recognize the city as being the same one in which Gabriel Allon lost both his children and in which his wife has been hospitalized since the explosion of her car. For his own part Gabriel is still the world's foremost art restorer curiously, or perhaps perversely, working on the restoration of a painting of a decidedly Catholic nature.

What makes this novel fascinating isn't so much the storyline as it is the historical background of the story. Silva has clearly done an exhaustive amount of research leading up to the writing of this novel and succeeds in relaying the historical truths of the holocaust and the Nazi effort to hide their crimes in a compelling series of expository narratives which serve to further the story while informing the reader. These snapshot of history are actually far more interesting and compelling than the story of Gabriel Allon, Shamron's favourite assassin, going after a war criminal.

As always with Silva there is an effort to be even handed even when dealing with the Nazis. While it is difficult to humanize those who have done monstrous deeds it is equally true that evil is frequently much more banal than we can imagine. It is this banality, the every day inconspicuousness, the lack of the outward appearance of being exceptional upon which Silva relies to get the reader to give the Nazi being hunted a fair hearing.

No story about the Nazis and war crimes would be complete without also involving the Catholic church and the U.S. government both of whom were involved in their own ways in helping those charged with war crimes after the war. The treatment of these involvements is perfunctory at best and in some respects presented without Silva's trademark balanced perspective or mitigating arguments.

All in all A Death In Vienna is a decent read but not really what a Silva fan would expect falling short of the skill and talent he has demonstrated in previous work.