#1 New York Times bestselling author Daniel Silva delivers another stunning thriller in his latest action-packed tale of high stakes international intrigue.
The hunt is on for the greatest art forger who ever lived ...
Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon has at long last severed ties with Israeli intelligence and settled quietly with his beautiful wife and their young twins in Venice, the only place he has ever truly known peace.
But when the eccentric London art dealer Julian Isherwood asks Gabriel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the rediscovery and lucrative sale of a centuries-old painting, he is drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse where nothing is as it seems.
Gabriel soon discovers that the work in question, a portrait of an unidentified woman attributed to Sir Anthony van Dyck, is almost certainly a fiendishly clever fake. To find the mysterious figure who painted it-and uncover a multibillion-dollar fraud at the pinnacle of the art world-Gabriel conceives one of the most elaborate deceptions of his career. If it is to succeed, he must become the very mirror image of the man he seeks: the greatest art forger the world has ever known.
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Release date: July 19, 2022
Print pages: 496
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Portrait of an Unknown Woman
It was Francesco Tiepolo, while standing atop Tintoretto’s grave in the church of the Madonna dell’Orto, who had assured Gabriel that one day he would return to Venice. The remark was not idle speculation, as Gabriel discovered a few nights later, during a candlelit dinner with his beautiful young wife on the island of Murano. He offered several considered objections to the scheme, without conviction or success, and in the aftermath of an electrifying conclave in Rome, the deal was concluded. The terms were equitable, everyone was happy. Chiara especially. As far as Gabriel was concerned, nothing else mattered.
Admittedly, it all made a great deal of sense. After all, Gabriel had served his apprenticeship in Venice and had pseudonymously restored many of its greatest masterpieces. Still, the arrangement was not without its potential pitfalls, including the agreed-upon organizational chart of the Tiepolo Restoration Company, the most prominent such enterprise in the city. Under the terms of their arrangement, Francesco would remain at the helm until his retirement, when Chiara, who was Venetian by birth, would assume control. In the meantime she would occupy the position of general manager, with Gabriel serving as the director of the paintings department. Which meant that, for all intents and purposes, he would be working for his wife.
He approved the purchase of a luxurious four-bedroom piano nobile overlooking the Grand Canal in San Polo but otherwise left the planning and execution of the pending move in Chiara’s capable hands. She oversaw the apartment’s renovation and decoration long-distance from Jerusalem while Gabriel served out the remainder of his term at King Saul Boulevard. The final months passed quickly—there always seemed to be one more meeting to attend, one more crisis to avert—and in late autumn he embarked on what a noted columnist at Haaretz described as “the long goodbye.” The events ranged from cocktail receptions and tribute-laden dinners to a blowout at the King David Hotel attended by espiocrats from around the globe, including the powerful chief of the Jordanian Mukhabarat and his counterparts from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Their presence was proof that Gabriel, who had cultivated security partnerships across the Arab world, had left an indelible mark on a region torn by decades of war. For all its problems, the Middle East had changed for the better on his watch.
Reclusive by nature and uncomfortable in crowded settings, he found all the attention unbearable. Indeed, he much preferred the quiet evenings he passed with the members of his senior staff, the men and women with whom he had carried out some of the most storied operations in the history of a storied service. He begged Uzi Navot for forgiveness. He dispensed career and marital advice to Mikhail Abramov and Natalie Mizrahi. He shed tears of laughter while telling uproarious tales about the three years he had spent living underground in Western Europe with the hypochondriacal Eli Lavon. Dina Sarid, archivist of Palestinian and Islamic terrorism, beseeched Gabriel to sit for a series of exit interviews so that she might record his exploits in an unclassified official history. Not surprisingly,he declined. He had no wish to dwell on the past, he told her. Only the future.
Two officers from his senior staff, Yossi Gavish of Research and Yaakov Rossman of Special Ops, were regarded as his most likely successors. But both were overjoyed to learn that Gabriel had chosen Rimona Stern, the chief of Collections, instead. On a blustery Friday afternoon in mid-December, she became the first female director-general in the history of the Office. And Gabriel, after affixing his signature to a stack of documents regarding his modest pension and the dire consequences he would suffer if he ever divulged any of the secrets lodged in his head, officially became the world’s most famous retired spy. His ritual disrobing complete, he toured King Saul Boulevard from top to bottom, shaking hands, drying tear-streaked cheeks. He assured his heartbroken troops that they had not seen the last of him, that he intended to keep his hand in the game. No one believed him.
That evening he attended one final gathering, this time on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Unlike its predecessors, the encounter was at times contentious, though in the end a kind of peace was made. Early the next morning he made a pilgrimage to his son’s grave on the Mount of Olives—and to the psychiatric hospital near the old Arab village of Deir Yassin where the child’s mother resided in a prison of memory and a body ravaged by fire. With Rimona’s blessing, the Allon family flew to Venice aboard the Office’s Gulfstream, and at three that afternoon, after a windblown ride across the laguna in a gleaming wooden water taxi, they arrived at their new home.
Gabriel headed directly to the large light-filled room he had claimed as his studio and found an antique Italian easel, two halogen work lamps, and an aluminum trolley filled with Winsor & Newton sable-hair brushes, pigment, medium, and solvent. Absent was his old paint-smudged CD player. In its place was a British-made audio system and a pair of floor-standing speakers. His extensive music collection was organized by genre, composer, and artist.
“What do you think?” asked Chiara from the doorway.
“Bach’s violin concertos are in the Brahms section. Otherwise, it’s absolutely—”
“Amazing, I think.”
“How did you possibly manage all this from Jerusalem?”
She waved a hand dismissively.
“Is there any money left?”
“I’ll line up a few private commissions after we get settled.”
“I’m afraid that’s out of the question.”
“Because you shall do no work whatsoever until you’ve had a chance to properly rest and recuperate.” She handed him a sheet of paper. “You can start with this.”
“A shopping list?”
“There’s no food in the house.”
“I thought I was supposed to be resting.”
“You are.” She smiled. “Take your time, darling. Enjoy doing something normal for a change.”
The closest supermarket was the Carrefour near the Frari church. Gabriel’s stress level seemed to subside a notch with each item he placed in his lime-green basket. Returning home, he watched the latest news from the Middle East with only passing interest while Chiara, singing softly to herself, prepared dinner in the apartment’s showplace of a kitchen. They finished the last of the Barbaresco upstairs on the roof terrace, huddled closely together against the cold December air. Beneath them, gondolas swayed at their moorings. Along the gentle curve of the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge was awash with floodlight.
“And if I were to paint something original?” asked Gabriel. “Would that constitute work?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“A canal scene. Or perhaps a still life.”
“Still life? How boring.”
“In that case, how about a series of nudes?”
Chiara raised an eyebrow. “I suppose you’ll need a model.”
“Yes,” said Gabriel, tugging at the zipper of her coat. “I suppose I will.”
Chiara waited until January before taking up her new position at Tiepolo Restoration. The firm’s warehouse was on the mainland, but its business offices were located on the fashionable Calle Larga XXII Marzo in San Marco, a ten-minute commute by vaporetto. Francesco introduced her to the city’s artistic elite and dropped cryptic hints that a succession plan had been put in place. Someone leaked the news to Il Gazzettino, and in late February a brief article appeared in the newspaper’s Cultura section. It referred to Chiara by her maiden name, Zolli, and pointed out that her father was the chief rabbi of Venice’s dwindling Jewish community. With the exception of a few nasty reader comments, mainly from the populist far right, the reception was favorable.
The story contained no mention of a spouse or domestic partner, only two children, twins apparently, of indeterminate age and gender. At Chiara’s insistence, Irene and Raphael were enrolled in the neighborhood scuola elementare rather than one of Venice’s many private international schools. Perhaps fittingly, theirs was named for Bernardo Canal, the father of Canaletto. Gabriel deposited them at the entrance at eight o’clock each morning and collected them again at half past three. Along with a daily visit to the Rialto Market, where he fetched the ingredients for the family dinner, the two appointments represented the sum total of his domestic responsibilities.
Forbidden by Chiara to work, or to even set foot in the offices of Tiepolo Restoration, he devised ways of filling his vast reservoir of available time. He read dense books. He listened to his music collection on his new sound system. He painted his nudes—from memory, of course, for his model was no longer available to him. Occasionally she came to the apartment for “lunch,” which was the way they referred to the ravenous sessions of midday lovemaking in their glorious bedroom overlooking the Grand Canal.
Mainly, he walked. Not the punishing clifftop hikes of his Cornish exile, but aimless Venetian wanderings conducted in the unhurried manner of a flaneur. If he were so inclined, he would drop in on a painting he had once restored, if only to see how his work had held up. Afterward, he might slip into a bar for a coffee and, if it was cold, a small glass of something stronger to warm his bones. More often than not, one of the other patrons would attempt to engage him in conversation about the weather or the news of the day. Where once he would have spurned their overtures, he now reciprocated, in perfect if slightly accented Italian, with a witticism or keen observation of his own.
One by one, his demons took flight, and the violence of his past, the nights of blood and fire, receded from his thoughts and dreams. He laughed more easily. He allowed his hair to grow. He acquired a new wardrobe of elegant handmade trousers and cashmere jackets befitting a man of his position. Before long he scarcely recognized the figure he glimpsed each morning in the mirror of his dressing room. The transformation, he thought, was nearly complete. He was no longer Israel’s avenging angel. He was the director of the paintings department of the Tiepolo Restoration Company. Chiara and Francesco had given him a second chance at life. This time, he vowed, he would not make the same mistakes.
In early March, during a bout of drenching rains, he asked Chiara for permission to begin working. And when she once again denied his request, he ordered a twelve-meter Bavaria C42 yacht and spent the next two weeks preparing a detailed itinerary for a summer sailing trip around the Adriatic and Mediterranean. He presented it to Chiara over a particularly satisfying lunch in the bedroom of their apartment.
“I have to say,” she murmured approvingly, “that was one of your better performances.”
“It must be all the rest I’ve been getting.”
“I’m so rested I’m on the verge of becoming bored stiff.”
“Then perhaps there’s something we can do to make your afternoon a bit more interesting.”
“I’m not sure that would be possible.”
“How about a drink with an old friend?”
“Depends on the friend.”
“Julian rang me at the office as I was leaving. He said he was in Venice and was wondering whether you had a minute or two to spare.”
“What did you say to him?”
“That you would meet him for a drink after you were finished having your way with me.”
“Surely you left the last bit out.”
“I don’t believe so, no.”
“What time is he expecting me?”
“What about the children?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll cover for you.” She glanced at her wristwatch. “The question is, what shall we do until then?”
“Since you’re not wearing any clothing . . .”
“Why don’t you come to my studio and pose for me?”
“I have a better idea.”
Chiara smiled. “Dessert.”
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