The book: A Death in Vienna, by Daniel Silva
The edition: Penguin books paperback, 403 pages
The story: when the Israeli-run Holocaust research office in Vienna is bombed, Israeli spy Gabriel Allon (undercover as an art restorer) is sent to investigate. Detail by detail, through a breathless adventure that brings him to Rome, Jerusalem, and some faraway place in South America, he will uncover a huge and devilish plan, with roots hidden in Austria not-so-forgotten past and, of course, in the Shoah itself.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: it was like watching an episode of N.C.I.S., one of those featuring Ziva and a lot of Israeli agent whom you are never quite sure whether to trust or not. I found no depth, no understanding of why a character behaves in a given way, no search into their motives. It is probably all for the best in this kind of book, no one would expect these things.
Except me, that is: I kept expecting some deeper understanding, not of the Holocaust, but of the Austrian soul and Austrian attitude towards its recent past. Because characters and (partly) facts draw almost exactly from what happened there in a very recent past. So yes, I was expecting more.
And in any case: if I am in the mood for such a story, I’d rather watch it on TV, it takes less time and less attention, and leaves more room for reading other books! So, once more (I’ve already said the same of many books this year, oh my!): not my cup of tea. It would still fit my definition of beach book, though!
Language & writing: the best I can say here is that the author thinks evidently in television terms. The book is full of descriptions that accompany your eyes from the outside of a building and through all the bends and turns and rooms and corridors and details until you reach the place where the action is. Not nearly building up tension, but you can nearly see it in your mind as if you were watching on a screen. The technique may work a couple of time, but it was used a couple too many.
In the author’s own words: the beginning of the book, with one of those camera-like descriptions:
THE OFFICE IS hard to find, and intentionally so. Located near the end of a narrow, curving lane, in a quarter of Vienna more renowned for its nightlife than its tragic past, the entrance is marked only by a small brass plaque bearing the inscription Wartime Claims and Inquiries. The security system, installed by an obscure firm based in Tel Aviv, is formidable and highly visible. A camera glowers menacingly from above the door. No one is admitted without an appointment and a letter of introduction. Visitors must pass through a finely tuned magnetometer. Purses and briefcases are inspected with unsmiling efficiency by one of two disarmingly pretty girls. One is called Reveka, the other Sarah.
Once inside, the visitor is escorted along a claustrophobic corridor lined with gunmetal-gray filing cabinets, then into a large typically Viennese chamber with pale floors, a high ceiling, and bookshelves bowed beneath the weight of countless volumes and file folders. The donnish clutter is appealing, though some are unnerved by the green-tinted bulletproof windows overlooking the melancholy courtyard.
The man who works there is untidy and easily missed. It is his special talent.
Read this if: if you like adventure/spy stories
Counts as: Travel with Books – Vienna