Book Review: “The Order” by Daniel Silva

In Israeli spymaster Gabriel Allon, author Daniel Silva created a highly sympathetic character who is melancholy, strong, unafraid, and defiant. In many ways, he mirrors the Jewish homeland he represents: unwilling to tolerate one more drop of genocidal blood on his watch after the Holocaust and acts of terror have ripped his family apart. Those who follow Allon in the series Silva crafted can’t help admiring and rooting for him as he uncovers and fights everyone from Irish terrorists to radical Islamists bent on destroying what they cannot conquer.

Thus it is a deep disappointment to encounter a book in this series that falters on virtually every level — the mystery is predictable, the thriller elements not at all suspenseful, and even Gabriel Allon’s attractive qualities seem somehow muted by the weak storytelling. Yet that is precisely how I felt after reading The Order, the latest of Allon’s exploits.

A quick summary of the plot: A Jesuit priest contacts Allon to investigate whether the latest pope has been murdered (instead of succumbing to a heart attack). No surprise, he has been. By a fanatical ultra-conservative bishop who heads a fanatical ultra-conservative Catholic group that intends to align with other conservative political forces taking power in Europe, forces that hate Jews and Muslims and immigrants in general, and stir up national pride while not providing good governmental services. By the way, I’m giving nothing away in this summary. You’ll figure all this out pretty quickly since none of it is hidden.

The story feels as if it’s supposed to be a warning to readers that dark forces could overcome the world again if we’re not vigilant. To avoid this fate, we must throw in our lot with the liberation theology Jesuit who, despite his saintly outlook and liberal broadmindedness, isn’t keen on letting priests marry.

If the story was predictable and trite, the writing didn’t always rise above it. It felt rushed at times and imprecise. A woman is described, at one point, as wearing cat’s eye glasses that make her look academic. Um, nope, those glasses would make you look like a fashionista. Horn-rimmed spectacles, maybe a la Harry Potter, might do the trick for the intelligentsia look. I’m surprised an editor didn’t flag that.

What I found most disappointing in the book — even disturbing — was Mr. Silva’s anti-Christian theme. It’s perfectly fine to enumerate the sins of Christianity, especially Catholicism, regarding the treatment of Jews (especially during and after the Holocaust when some church leaders helped Nazi murderers escape to South America). What’s not so fine is devising a plot that seeks to blow up core beliefs of Christianity. Mr. Silva seems bent on saying to Christians: hey, what you believe in? It’s all a lie.

Sorry to say but I’ll give a lot of thought to whether I’ll buy another book in this series.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

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