Daniel Silva On His New Gabriel Alon Thriller, The Fallen Angel
HH: I wanted to be able to put out this interview when the book came out, because it’s my annual conversation with Daniel Silva, novelist extraordinaire, creator of Gabriel Alon, author of the most recent in the Alon series, The Fallen Angel, which no doubt by this point is soaring up bestseller lists back up to the number one slot he’s earned with his last two books. Welcome back, Daniel Silva, always a pleasure to talk to you.
DS: Thank you for having me.
HH: Let’s begin with, by the way, www.danielsilvabooks.com, this is your twelfth of twelve books in the Gabriel Alon series, which began with the Kill Artist in 2000. That means next year’s the unlikely thirteenth. Is Alon superstitious? I can’t remember in any of these novels if he is superstitious.
DS: I think fatalistic is the way that I would describe him, but no, he doesn’t have any superstitions, or anything I’ve built in. He has many things he does not like. For example, he is no friend of the canine.
HH: That’s right.
DS: And I do a scene in this novel that involves canines. They don’t like his green eyes. There’s something about Gabriel Alon that just turns dogs into savage beasts, and so…
HH: And that confrontation…
DS: …no superstitions. He just doesn’t like dogs.
HH: That’s a very interesting confrontation in The Fallen Angel. I made a note when I was going through it to ask you, do you share that phobia?
DS: I love dogs, but you know, when I was a kid growing up in a small town in California, I was a track athlete, and a cross country athlete, and did a lot of running along farm roads and out in the country. And I have to tell you, I have, I spent a great portion of my childhood running from watchdogs and farm dogs. So I would say that I like dogs. I have a healthy respect for them, and I, like Gabriel, have been set upon by dogs a great deal.
HH: You know, this is our fifty conversation. We talked originally in 2008, and I hope it’s an annual chat for years to come. But I don’t recall, perhaps we have, but I don’t recall you telling me that you were a runner before. Are you still a runner, Daniel Silva.
DS: I have suffered so many injuries from being a junior Olympian, you know, very youthful track athlete, that I simply cannot. I do my endurance work these days on a bike right now.
HH: Okay, now Alon does not exercise, either, now that I think about it.
DS: He was a runner as a child, and what he does do is he is depicted often in books, he goes on long, solitary walks wherever he is.
DS: And so he is, as I’ve described him, he has this pear physique of a cyclist. He did, when he was a young boy in the Jezreel Valley in Israel, he would go on long, solitary runs and walks when he was a young kid. But he does not, you won’t find him in the gym, but he’s a very physically fit guy, very fit.
HH: For the benefit of new audiences, like Salt Lake City and Fargo and a number of places that are new to my show since the last time we talked, it’s best to have you give the Gabriel Alon back story before we plunge into, by the way, it’s a fantastic book. But tell people a little bit about Gabriel Alon before The Fallen Angel.
DS: Well, we’ll go back to the beginning, and that was as a young art student, I’ll go back even a little further. He is the only child of a pair of German Holocaust survivors born in the Jezreel Valley of Israel. His mother was a very fine artist, his grandfather was a fine artist. And he was an art student in 1972 at the time of the Munich Olympic massacre. He was then recruited into the Israel Secret Service, because he spoke fluent German with the Berlin accent of his mother, and was sent to Europe as an assassin, and took part in the series of assassinations that many of your listeners are probably familiar with if they’ve seen the movie Munich. He then had a long and distinguished, and sometimes blay career with Israeli Secret Service. And now he’s sort of in and out. But along the way, and this is the important part of the series, he lost the ability to paint because of the things that he’d done on behalf of his country, and he became an art restorer, and not just any art restorer. Gabriel Alon is truly one of the world’s finest art restorers. And so the books really deal, each of the books has the split personality of the hero himself they deal with – intelligence and international intrigue, but they also have a strong art component to them.
HH: Oh, they’re fantastic in that way, and this time, the new twist is that he has to destroy a piece of art, ancient, in order to go about his higher calling, which is protecting the state of Israel, and we’ll come back to that. I was struck when I was reading this, Daniel Silva, that soon will be the 40th anniversary of the first occasion for many of my listeners, and certainly for me, to encounter terrorism. I was watching the 1972 Olympics as a boy, as a high school student in Warren, Ohio, and just transfixed. Could not understand what was happening. That is referenced in The Fallen Angel when Ari Shamron says we begged the Germans to let us handle the rescue operation. They refused.
DS: That is true. It was.
HH: Where were you in 1972? You’re younger than I am, but do you recall that?
DS: Traumatized by it. We’ll go back to the fact that I was a track athlete as a kid, and I mean, the Olympics were huge for me. And I sat and watched this thing for hours and hours and hours, and went through it like everyone else, and was deeply impacted by it and traumatized by it. I thought it was horrendous. And I still think it was a mistake that the Games resumed so quickly afterwards. And it just had a profound effect on me, and I don’t think it’s an accident that all those years later, I created this character named Gabriel Alon.
HH: That was my next question. Did you even have a glimmer in 1972, because I think you were like 11, or 12, or 13.
DS: No, I’m 11. Yeah, 11.
HH: …that this would change the course of your life, because I can’t think of anyone other than you who has spent so much time in their artistic career talking about the fallout of terror.
DS: No, I did not. I knew, I think, by that time that I was a huge reader as a child, and I loved adventure stories. And I started to have an inkling about, and that maybe I would like to try to write someday, just maybe those first kernels. But no, I couldn’t possibly imagine that it would find its way into my work.
HH: You were a reporter, for the benefit of our audience, before you were a novelist. When you were a reporter, and you started to pick up the pen and start to write your first book, did you think that you would end up being involved in the history of the state of Israel to the extent that the Gabriel Alon books have made you?
DS: No. I did not. In fact, Gabriel was not supposed to be a continuing character. And when I first sort of made the original notations for the book that would become The Kill Artist, not my title, by the way, and I never liked it, but when I first started making those notes on that book, he was a rather small character. He was at the second tier. And then as I got into the book and started working, he just took it over. And by the time I finished that novel, I knew that I’d created a special character, but my instincts told me that there was, you know, far too much anti-Israel sentiment in the world, far too much anti-Semitism, frankly, for an Israeli character to ever work in a truly mass market way. And thank goodness, a very smart woman named Phyllis Graham, who was then the publisher of Putnam, told me that I was wrong.
HH: Boy, were you ever wrong. Is there any way to communicate to the audience how commercially successful this is, because it’s what, thirty countries around the world that carry it?
DS: It is. It is at least that, and I think that, and countries that are frankly not friendly to the state of Israel. I think that there are just certain universalities to Gabriel Alon’s story that make him attractive to a wide audience. And I do do things in the types of stories that I tell, and the way that I tell them, to make it work for a broad audience. But I’m stunned by it. No one is more surprised to see Gabriel Alon at the top of the bestseller list than I am.
HH: I will be right back with Daniel Silva. His new novel, The Fallen Angel, available in bookstores everywhere, of course from Amazon.com. I always say start with The Kill Artist. Buy all twelve books from www.danielsilvabooks.com, and read them in order. I’ll tell you why when we come back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
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HH: Daniel Silva, when we went to break, I was about to tell you just a couple of days back, I sent to National Review my summer reading list, and I included authors as opposed to books. And on that list are Patrick O’Brien, whose Jack Aubrey gives me so much joy, Bernard Cornwell, whose Richard Sharpe gives me so much pleasure, C.J. Box and Joe Picket. And I ended up writing about the fact I love these stories where the character ages in real time, so that you really kind of grow older with them. And we’ve talked about this before, but for the benefit of new listeners, or those who missed that, that takes quite a lot of doing. You’ve got to age them in real time.
DS: Yeah, as I write in this book, I think, that Gabriel’s age, his birth date is one of the most closely guarded secrets in all of Israel. And even I don’t know exactly how old he is at this point. But I try to, to the extent possible, to take his age into consideration before asking him to do things. And I wish he could be young forever, but that would get boring, actually.
HH: Oh, there’s an operational moment in Vienna which is very believable, whatever his age is. That’s what, you know, because you can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound when you’re somewhere over 40 and south of 60. But you can certainly do what he did there.
DS: Definitely. And he has a younger man named Mikhail. His name is no accident, by the way. You have Gabriel and Michael walking side by side, the prince of fire and the prince of ice. And so he’s got some younger guns around him when he needs it.
HH: All right, now you just touched on something I wanted to bring up. There’s also no kabala, as far as I can recall, in these dozen, soon next year to be thirteen novels. Is that just something that you don’t deal with? Or is it something that might show up at some point?
DS: It’s not something that…it’s something I’m interested in. I think that the subtext of his aunt, who appears in A Death In Vienna briefly, I always thought that Fiona was a bit of a Kabalist. But I’ve just not devoted any time to studying it.
HH: All right, now you’ve made me a very popular guy, because people who have discovered you via these annual interviews come and thank me as opposed to you, and this will happen again. But I’ve got to always say, I’m impressed that you keep working the marketing, because Ken Follett said this to me. He came to this studio last year, or two years ago when Fall Of Giants came out, and he doesn’t have to do any marketing. You don’t have to do any marketing. But he wants new readers, because he wrote the book. He know he can sell a million books without picking up a phone or showing up for a conversation. What’s your motivation? You don’t have to do any marketing, and yet, I think you’re doing a dozen city book tour?
DS: Right. I feel an obligation, actually, not only to my publishers, but to my readers to get out there and look them in the eye and shake their hand. And I have really great book events. I’m very lucky in that people actually come, and so on any given night, you know, depending on the venue, I have several hundred people that come to my events. And it just, I think that if I stopped doing that, I would lose a very important point of contact I have with my readership. And I really do, as I said, I feel an obligation to go out there and see them once a year. And when I take a city off the list, oh my goodness do I hear from them over the email link. And so for now, I have no plans to stop touring and promoting. I just feel that in this crowded media marketplace, that I have to do everything I can do to help my publishers, who are wonderful, and I want to do that. But I also really want to get out there and say hello to my fans. I could not do what I do without them.
HH: The book tour this year will be in Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, L.A., Miami, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and St. Louis. And all of those dates are, I’m sure, listed at www.danielsilvabooks.com so that people can…
DS: And they’re all, there’s not a single day off.
HH: You see, this is, that’s kind of…I’m very impressed. People who have to sell books have to do book tours.
DS: And I have a couple of days where I do two events, actually.
HH: Oh, it’s exhausting. Oh, that’s exhausting. All right, now back to the…by the way, technical publishing question, when we first talked in 2008, and indeed, when you began the series in 2000, the world of publishing was very different. What is your download versus hardcover ratio now?
DS: One to one.
DS: One to one. Now I think I actually have a slightly more e-friendly readership. I think that mine is maybe a little heavier than most commercial authors, but it is, it’s exploding.
HH: What about you personally? As you now read, do you read electronically? Or do you still.
DS: Never, never. Nope. I don’t. If I need something in a pinch, a research book, I’ll zap it to my iPad and use that. But not for pleasure.
DS: Although I do, I must confess, I love, I like The Economist. I’m a religious reader of The Economist. I like it better on iPad than on paper. It’s a great, for you Economist readers out there, it’s an excellent app. And I do tend to read the New York Times, because I’m too lazy to go out the doorstep, just read it on the iPad.
HH: The only books I read in fiction in hardcover are those of authors I’m going to interview. Non-fiction, I have to have it in my hands so I can annotate it. But fiction, it’s always the story, unless I’m going to interview them, which in that case, I’ve got to read it in hardcopy so I can flip back and forth. But I wonder if that’s going to endure.
DS: But Hugh, is it really a book if it’s not a book?
HH: That’s what I wanted to ask you.
DS: This is an existential question, but it’s something that troubles me deeply. Is it a book if it’s not a book?
HH: And if you walk into someone’s house, how in the world can you tell much about them without looking at, you can’t look at their electronic bookshelf. I’ve always judged a house by its book. Now you can’t do that anymore. And so does it unnerve you a little bit that half of the books that you’re selling are, they don’t exist except in bits?
DS: Yeah, it does, actually. And it also, frankly, because my son is tech-savvy, and I am aware of some of the things that very smart people can do to Nooks and Kindles, that I’m not sure that every book of mine that’s being read is actually being bought.
HH: Oh, of course not, yeah.
DS: And so I worry about it in the long term. But like Gabriel Alon, I have to be somewhat fatalistic about it, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it right now.
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HH: I’ve got to ramble here, and I’m going to get to the book itself in just a moment, but since I’ve talked to you often, and you often mention in your book, in the back of your book, your two children, Lily and Nicholas, and of course, the world knows Jamie Gangel is your wife, and is one of the great television correspondents at work, I don’t mind asking you about your family. I don’t normally ask writers about their family. But you’ve got these two children. Their dad is such an accomplished author who can spin a great story and rivet attention. Do they feel any pressure when they write either for academic school or anything? Do they say oh, gosh, Dad is around the corner, he’s this world famous, internationally bestselling novelist, and I’ve got to let him read what I’ve written?
DS: You know, the best thing about my children is that they are so much smarter than both Jamie and I, and I am not exaggerating. They are both very, very accomplished students who are, I can’t say it any other way. They’re so much smarter than I am, that they never worry about it. I will never forget this wonderful time when my daughter was in elementary school, and she would not want me to touch her work, not because she was nervous about showing it to me, or her mother, who’s a much tougher editor than I am. She always said daddy, does it sound like a kid wrote it? You know, I want it to sound like a kid wrote it. And so they…and I think that any public person will tell you that the best thing about having children is that they don’t really care who you are. They don’t. And I am a figure of ridicule around our home.
DS: I am just the guy who lives in the basement, who pleads for quiet, they mock me, they make fun of me. And that’s the way it should be.
HH: How often they must say if only your public knew, Daniel Silva.
DS: And I, the one thing I do is that I really work all day, but I give myself little breaks. And one of the ways I give myself a little break is I do their laundry for them. So when they walk in the door, their father, who’s sold a couple of books in his life, there are little parcels of neatly folded laundry waiting for them.
HH: Oh, that is terrific. Now do they go out on tour with you? Have you exposed them to the world of selling and marketing yet?
DS: They will help me start the tour generally in New York City, but no. No.
HH: Where do you launch by the way? Normally when books come out, it might be the Today Show. I simply don’t know, because I don’t watch much television. But where do you launch? What’s your…
DS: I go to New York. And I, this year, I will be doing the Today Show, CBS, Morning Joe. I think I’m going to appear on Sean Hannity’s Great American Panel as you did.
HH: Oh, gosh, I would change my schedule to do that sometime, but I won’t be in the country. Oh, that’s too bad.
DS: And it’s always a treat for me to be able to talk about something other than my book. And I generally do what we call a satellite media tour, where you sit in front of a camera and do 20 or 30 interviews straight.
DS: And from there, I leave the next morning and go on the road.
HH: Now I want to ask this, and limit it to television. I’m not putting you on the spot about radio. But among the television interlocutors you’ve had, I think the best in the business are Charlie Rose and Brian Lamb. Is there anyone else who falls into their rank when they talk books and themes and novels with you?
DS: Well, I actually think that Matt Lauer does a terrific jobs with his interview in a, he has a much more limited time…
DS: …you know, where Charlie will have someone on the evening show, and I guess those are about anywhere from twelve to twenty minute segments. And Brian Lamb is a completely different animal. But I think that Matt Lauer, who I’ve done several times, is an excellent, excellent interviewer.
HH: I don’t get to watch morning television very often. I’m curious, though, in terms of the amount of time proportionate for the long form, is there anyone other than Lamb and rose who works in that form anymore?
DS: You really have to go, believe it or not, into the local markets. And there are some really interesting book programs on local cable.
DS: So that’s where I will do the longer format ones.
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HH: I said earlier that we prerecorded this before I left on vacation, Daniel Silva, and I think as it plays, I will be in Vienna, and I will certainly go to the Stadttempel Synagogue, about which I had never heard until I read The Fallen Angel. And tell people a little bit about it, because it’s got a pivotal moment in this book, and I just never heard this story about how it survived kristallnacht.
DS: It is, for your listeners who know a little bit about the geography of Vienna, it’s in the first district of Vienna, not far from the Stephansdom Cathedral. It’s tucked in a little side street in what used to be the Jewish quarter. And because of an edict that was in effect at the time it was built, that said only Christian churches, or I think Catholic churches could be visible from the street, it’s concealed behind a façade of town homes. And if you look at it from straight overhead on a satellite’s picture, you can see the sort of rotunda of the sanctuary behind the façade. And on kristallnacht, when every other synagogue and prayer room in Vienna was burned, it survived, because to burn it would have meant burning down a row of incredibly beautiful buildings in central Vienna. So the mobs had to be content with just smashing the place up.
HH: Now when you chose to put that into the book, obviously you can set that particular incident, and it’s always one of the struggles talking to a novelist not to give away anything in the novel, but to allude to them, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
HH: You could have picked a historic structure or a synagogue. You could have gone to Rome, you could have gone to Venice, you could have gone to St. Petersburg, which has got a beautiful synagogue I’ve been in, but you picked this one. Why this one? And did you, do you begin with the idea…
DS: This is Gabriel’s back story, and what happened to him in Vienna.
DS: And so it was central to the plot of the story. And for those who don’t know, his son was killed, and his wife was badly maimed in a, his first wife, in a car bombing incident that took place in Vienna in the early 90s. So for Gabriel to just be back in Vienna, it’s very difficult. And so I chose it very specifically for that reason.
HH: You also have a…
DS: And by the way, I fear that it could happen at any time, meaning that we know now that Hezbollah is targeting Israeli diplomats all over the place. And they are also targeting non-Israeli Jews in Europe, and perhaps even here. And if the situation with the Iranian nuclear program gets any hotter than it already is, or if these sanctions wreak any more havoc on the Iranian economy, I fear that the Iranians are going to unleash Hezbollah, and something in the way, akin to what I wrote in this novel, could happen.
HH: When I visited the great synagogue in Rome a few years ago, it’s so close to the major thoroughfare there, and I thought to myself…
HH: Yeah, this has got to be on every bad guy’s target list. But I guess they’re all…
DS: Well, was it not surrounded by Italian police and troops while you were there?
HH: Yes, and you went through the laborious process you describe at the Stadttempel of entering. But it’s still vulnerable to the coming and the going. That’s what…
DS: Well, we, they keep it, and the streets around it are blocked, there are armored cars and armored personnel carriers that block the entrances to it. The community can pretty much come and go at will, but visitors really have to sort of be checked out.
HH: You bet. Do you get any blowback from people who read it and said oh, Silva, you’re giving the bad guys ideas?
DS: No, but I have written about Rome and that synagogue.
DS: That synagogue has played a role in my book, The Confessor. And I did actually attack the Israeli Embassy in Rome in a book called The Prince Of Fire. And the scenario that I wrote in that book, I was actually told by Israeli officials is exactly the one that they fear the most.
HH: Well, this is so realistic in both of its Vienna attack and then its Jerusalem scenario, which I’m going to deal with in the second hour of our conversation that is very, very chilling. But now in terms of the book itself, when you set out, do you, are you consciously attempting to tell the history of the Jews in Europe at the same time that you want to bring people up to date on the tensions that are unfolding in the region as in the Middle East?
DS: No, not consciously, but I think that when I set scenes in Berlin and Vienna, and you have two characters like Gabriel Alon and Ari Shamron, whose family, I was just reading the obituary of Yitzhak Shamir this morning in the New York Times, and their lives are exactly parallel, that you know, Shamir came to what was then British mandate Palestine, and all of his family that stayed in Poland, they were all killed. And that’s exactly what happened to Ari Shamron. So it’s almost inescapable for two characters like that.
HH: A minute to the break. Shamron is a fascinating character. Tell the audience who haven’t heard us talk before who he is.
DS: He is Gabriel’s mentor, and sort of the grey eminence of Israeli intelligence. He’s not the chief anymore, but he always will be the chief. He’s the memmunet (?), the one in charge. And he is the, probably the most important character in the book. Everything revolves around Shamron. He’s the straw that stirs the drink.
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HH: In this very brief segment, Daniel Silva, Ari Shamron is the old man of Israeli intelligence, and I was reading Daniel Raviv’s new book, a history of Mossad and the rest of the intelligence agencies, and there have been lots of old men of Israeli intelligence. Is there anyone in particular on whom you base this character out of the pages of history?
DS: You know, I really combined several to create Ari Shamron. So he’s a little Isser Harel, he’s a little Meir Amit, he’s a little Zvi Zamir, and I just took little bits and pieces of all of them. But central to the Shamron story is that he is the man who actually physically grabbed Adolph Eichmann in Argentina, and ripped him off a street and put him in a car, and brought him back to Israel.
HH: Now there’s a little note that not many people will remember, but he tripped, or almost tripped, your fictional character, in grabbing the great Nazi war criminal.
DS: Yeah, this is also true.
HH: That’s what I wanted to know. Tell people that.
DS: One of the specialists, the snatch officers who was going for Eichmann, actually stumbled over a loose shoelace, and Eichmann heard the stumble and turned, and they thought for a few very tense seconds that it was going to go wrong, and it was because someone tripped over a loose shoelace. So no loose shoelaces. Gabriel double knots his laces every time he goes out.
HH: Yeah, a detail like that, do you keep an index card that says details for the next novel that will enrich and deepen…I mean, how did that come up at the time you were writing this?
DS: I don’t actually have to write a lot down. I have an incredible memory, and so all the things that I read get stored up in there.
HH: That’s is really good. And in the last minute of this hour, how much do you work a day? I ask you this every year, but I want young, aspiring novelist to hear. How much do you work a day?
DS: I work, first of all, I work seven days a week. In the fall, and when I’m first starting, my actual writing time is limited to, I try to limit it to about six to seven hours. But then as the deadline approaches, I really do work twelve to fourteen hours a day. And it’s not perfect, and I wish I didn’t have to do it that way, but modern publishing really requires us to come out with a book a year.
HH: Let that word go out to the would-be bestsellers. That’s what it takes.
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HH: Daniel Silva, I know I’ve been a terrible tease to the audience, because people, whenever they say have you got Silva’s new page proof yet, which artist is in here? That’s what they always want to know immediately, is which artist is providing you material for Gabriel Alon. And in this case, I’ve teased them for the whole first hour, and there are three, really. There is Caravaggio, there are the whole world of ancient antiquities, and then there’s the art of archaeology. So I’m going to walk through each of these three in turn, but I want to start with Caravaggio, about whom I knew very little when I did my background for this. And in fact, it took me, you refer to the canvas on which Alon is working as the Deposition Of Christ, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, because most American reference works refer to it as the Entombment of Christ. And…
DS: Yeah, it’s given both names, but I think the Deposition is the more common academic reference to it. That’s the way that the Vatican lists it in its museum references. I guess where the confusion comes from is that technically, for our Christian listeners out there, it’s not a true deposition, because the cross is not visible in the painting.
DS: And so it’s suspended somewhere between deposition and entombment, where they are placing Christ on the funerary stone. And so that, I think, is where the two names come about, because it’s sort of somewhere in between. That’s the magic of the painting. I think it is one of my paintings. Anyone who’s ever seen it, it’s impossible not to be spellbound by it. As I wrote in the text of the novel, that when you come upon it, you feel like you’re intruding on this moment of anguish of these characters. And the figures in the painting are so remarkable.
HH: Now because of timing, I wasn’t able to consult with my art historian friend, Michelle, and so I had to do it secondary sources about Nicodemus and the proportion of his body, and the three Mary’s and John. But you could have picked, because of the nature of this novel, The Fallen Angel, you could have picked any piece of work that you wanted. Many of your novels have to develop according to an artist, etc. But here, because of the nature of the canvas he’s working on in the Vatican, you can put anything you want on that easel. You pick this. That’s very…why this?
DS: Well, first of all, it had to be something, I wanted Gabriel to be working inside the Vatican, and something that would really tempt him to come to work for the Vatican. And so that would do it. And so there’s something just wonderful about the beginning of the novel where Gabriel Alon, and I wish I had the book near me, but the wayward son of Israeli intelligence, assassin, goes to the Vatican every morning to go to work in the lab with a Beretta on his hip, by the way. And so he sets off metal detectors wherever he goes. But so I wanted something that would make it believable that he would be working inside the Vatican. But the end of the last passage of the novel is deeply revelatory about what would be things to come, and so there’s elements of the third day, and there’s a lot going on there. I just love the symbolism of the painting. And Gabriel always shrouds himself when he works, so he’s working almost in a cave within the Vatican laboratory, and they are about to place the Savior in the tomb. So there’s a lot of things that I found symbolically significant to use from that. And I did get to go inside the lab, by the way.
HH: That is fascinating. I’m going to come to the Vatican in a second. And in fact, you describe the Vatican restoration staff in somewhat intimate detail. I’m sure the book is being passed around and chuckled, or not chuckled over inside the work of the professionals there. But you write it there about Caravaggio, that he had good reason to be paranoid, and so do I, says Gabriel Alon at one moment. How much did you read up on this crazy artist before you set to work on your own…
DS: I’ve been a Caravaggisti for a long time. And so I actually didn’t have to do too much reading up on him.
HH: Oh, how interesting. And so is he your favorite?
DS: I would say that Caravaggio is perhaps my favorite artist. And so we spent a great deal of time. One day I was researching in Rome, dragging the kids to see every Caravaggio that we could see while we were there, and they are spectacular paintings. And they’re hanging in churches and museums, and the Vatican. And they just take my breath away.
HH: And of them all, is this your favorite?
DS: Without question.
HH: Okay, and Nicodemus, the academic works I read said he was misshapen for a reason. Do you believe that?
DS: Not…he wasn’t necessarily misshapen. He has just a very bulky frame, muscular frame, and Caravaggio was, one of the things that distinguishes his work is that he just put peasants from the streets of Rome in his paintings, dirty feet and all, so that the man who posed for him was a very muscular figure. He is staring directly at the viewer, so it’s very arresting. Everyone else is looking away, but he’s the person whose eyes you meet.
HH: You are also obviously intimately familiar with some of the parts of the Vatican. And Gabriel moves through them in the company of the monsignor who is the pope of the time’s closest aide with the restoration staff, with a number of people. How much time have you spent there? And if you were left there alone, could you actually find your way around it?
DS: I could, yeah.
HH: You could?
DS: I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time at the Vatican. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. And I’ve also been fortunate to be beyond the point where most people get to go in, and I have good friend who have close relationships with the Vatican as well.
HH: It’s a very sympathetic portrait of the Vatican.
DS: It is. It is the Vatican as I want it to be. And it references and makes nods towards the scandals and the problems that the Church is having, but it is not central to the book. This relationship that Gabriel formed with the Vatican took place in a novel called The Confessor. And Luigi Donati, the papal private secretary, and the pope himself, have been reoccurring characters through the series at various points, played a big role in a book called The Messenger a few years ago. And I guess that secretly, it’s how I wish the world could be.
HH: That’s what I, that’s…I wish it was this way. I would hope that Benedict or his successor had this sort of relationship with Israel. It’s much more tentative than that.
MS: Oh, yes.
HH: And I would hope that there would be a recognition, there’s a papal visit in this book that one wishes would happen. I don’t see if happening in that way, shape or form, not with the drama, but with that intent. Do you?
DS: No, but I see baby steps. In fact, just right before the book was published, the staff at Yad Vashem, in the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem that is reference in the book, made some subtle changes to the exhibit on the Catholic Church and the War and Pope Pius. And that it took the edge off a couple of phrases within the historical description of what happened, baby steps, baby steps. But I think the world is in such turmoil right now, and Islam, radical Islam is, in my opinion, rising across the Middle East still, and we can talk about that later.
HH: When we come back from break, in fact, we’re taping this…
DS: And I just wish that the world was a little, the relations between Catholics and Jews were just a little bit more like it is in my novel.
HH: From your lips.
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HH: Daniel, on the day before we taped this, I went to Mass in the Basilica of the Immaculate Mary in Denver, 6:30am Mass, and the priest began by saying this morning in Kenya, Islamists broke into a Catholic Church and murdered two dozen people with grenades and machine guns.
DS: Yes, they did.
HH: And that is sort of what we were talking about last segment. There is a community of interest between Jews and Christians with regards not to Islam, but with regards to radical Islam, the Shiia fanatics of Iran, the Sunni fundamentalists, the Hezbollah terrorists that is very slow, I think, to be recognized by the secularists who are running so much of Europe and the United States.
DS: That’s because in Europe, I mean, secularism to a large extent is the religion in Europe. And that’s the choice that Europeans have made, and they live their lives the way they want to live their lives. But I think that clearly there are close, there’s a great deal of affection between Evangelical, Bible-based Christians in this country and the state of Israel. And that bond is very strong. And I am reminded of it every time I go on book tour, and every time I am around people of faith. And the Catholic Church, for any number of reasons, has not been as supportive of the state of Israel. There is a lot baggage, a lot of historical baggage between the two. And I just, I wish it wasn’t the case, because I do think that both institutions, the state of Israel and the Catholic Church, need partners, need friends. And I think that the world would be better off if they could get rid of some of this baggage and form a closer partnership. Look, they are, Catholics and Jews are part of the same Biblical family and community. They spring from the same faith. And this historical enmity, I hope at some point, is going to lessen.
HH: By way of background for the audience as well, you are a practicing Jew, you are a cradle Catholic, however. Am I correct about that?
DS: You’re correct about that.
HH: Okay, and when did you convert?
DS: I converted as an adult. I will not bore the audience with all the details of my upbringing, and the many things that led me to convert, but I am a huge supporter of the Catholic Church. I know they’ve had their troubles. But I was raised in a devout Catholic home, went to Catholic school, went to Mass every Sunday. And so I am someone who knows a great deal, and can come at this issue with a great deal of personal experience.
HH: And sympathy. I found the back story of the monsignor and his liberation theology days in South America to be very, very interesting.
DS: That’s because when I am around Catholic priests when I’m doing my work in the Vatican, I’m extremely comfortable with them. And in fact, my family was with me, and we formed lifelong friendships with priests who were working at the Vatican. I am just, I’ve been very blessed, and I, you know, have this split personality. And when I’m there, and when I am around them, I am comfortable with them, and they’re comfortable with me.
HH: Now Daniel Silva, last summer, last August, it was the first time I’d ever been to Israel. It was a hop, skip and a jump trip, but one of the things I was able to do was to travel the Western Wall tunnel.
DS: Oh, good for you.
HH: And one of the most amazing things I have ever seen is a woman praying earnestly near the Holy of Holies in a way that we just stopped, and I was with a great theologian and his wonderful wife, and my wife, and we sat there sort of transfixed by this. And it’s an amazing place that you captured. How long have you been planning on doing that? And to our audience, tell them a little bit about these excavations.
DS: Well, the Western Wall tunnel, as you described, is an excavation that runs from, you enter it off the Western Wall plaza, and the tunnel runs effectively under the old city, underneath the Muslim quarter of the old city, and runs along the base of the Western Wall. Keep in mind that the Western Wall, or the Wailing Wall that we see, is only a very small piece of the actual retaining wall of the entire Temple Mount plateau. So it extends several feet below ground, and several hundred feet, I’m trying to get my, northward. And so you can walk along the base of this wall. And the women who pray in the cave as it’s known, the small, little grotto-like synagogue, are, at this space, the place where we think we are closest to the Holy of Holies of the actual great Temple of Jerusalem. And anyone who doesn’t want to say there wasn’t any such thing as a Temple of Jerusalem, just needs to go down in those tunnels and walk along those Herodian stones, and they will be convinced that there was something there.
HH: Oh, those stones are simply amazing. They’re awe-inspiring that they got there.
HH: Yeah, but now let’s get to temple denial, and this is part of The Fallen Angel’s, I mean, it’s a wonderful thriller. It’s a great espionage book, but it’s also a useful, a timely, a crucial window into the bizarre disease of temple denial.
DS: Right, temple denial is a phenomenon that has taken hold in the Palestinian world, but in the, and the Islamic world in general, that states there was no such thing as any Jewish temple, first or second, in Jerusalem. It is a Bible story. It is a myth. And it surfaced in an impactful way at the Camp David summits in 2000 when Bill Clinton was trying to bring peace to the Middle East in the waning days of his second term. And here he’s sitting there working night and day to try to bring this about, and Yasser Arafat looks him in the face and says there’s no such thing as the Jewish Temple of Jerusalem. And it is a view that is espoused by virtually every Palestinian leader, including those who we think of as moderates. And the motivation for it is obvious, you know. No Temple of Jerusalem, no Jewish claim on the state of Israel.
– – – –
HH: And now, in the latest, The Fallen Angel, the history of the two temples, the first and the second temple, Daniel Silva, you’re going to catch, you know, whenever anyone brings up anything about the Temple, it’s like you open up a, not that it existed. That’s for the crazy people who want to deny it. But how it looked and how it operated, you know you’ve plunged yourself right into the middle of a thousand debates, didn’t you?
DS: I did, actually, but I was, you know, I just used the Biblical text as my source. And I think that I have to say that I don’t have any doubt whatsoever that there were Jewish houses of worship in that portion of Jerusalem. And as Christians, you do, too.
DS: Unless you are thinking that the story of Jesus turning over the money changing tables in the temple is just some sort of myth, Christians believe it, too. And the idea that atop this massive retaining wall and structure that we can all see is there, that there wasn’t an imposing Jewish temple, is just silliness.
HH: It is. It’s absurd.
DS: It is absurd.
HH: And the terrible destruction of the archaeological treasure that occurred during the construction of the underground mosque, which is detailed in The Fallen Angel as an aside, but give the audience a sense. My guide told me about this last summer, and I was shocked. I’d not read it before that anyone would be so ahistorical and so ferociously nutty to destroy the archaeological record of a time. But they do.
DS: But I think that it…I am reluctant to criticize the host, but I don’t think that nutty is the word. It was intentional.
HH: Right, and it’s crazed, not nutty. It’s crazed.
DS: It is, and so they turned what was an area what was known as Solomon’s stables, it was on the southeast corner of the Temple Mount complex, they turned it into a very large underground mosque. And to get the several thousand people that could worship in that mosque into the mosque, they had to build a new entranceway from the surface. And they excavated tons and tons of material, and with heavy bulldozers. And you know, if you put a shovel in the ground on the Temple Mount, you’re going to find something. And this material was, as I described in the book, literally thrown over the wall of the Temple Mount into the Kidron Valley, or taken off to the dump. And it was outrageous what was done.
HH: Now you have a very…
DS: But they don’t want, the Islamic waqf controls the Mount. Israel really maintains a hands-off attitude towards it, as it’s such a dangerous issue. And so this is what was allowed to take place, and it was an outrage.
HH: You have a very sympathetic character in Eli Levan, who is an archaeologist. Archaeologists the world around have a new favorite novel. It’s going to be the Fallen Angel.
DS: Yeah, he’s got quite a discovery in this one.
HH: He does. He’s got a great discovery, but it’s also, he’s so sympathetically portrayed, and you know, archaeologists, they have trouble getting anyone to pay attention to what they’re doing.
DS: Well, he, when we first encounter him in this novel, he is down in the Western Wall tunnels, and he is excavating the bones of a woman he has named Rifka, he believes that she was hurled over the walls by the Romans on the night that they laid siege to Herod’s great Temple of Jerusalem. And now, we can see the ruins of, where there were places, I’m sure you saw them in the archaeological gardens where…
DS: …you could see the piles of stones that were thrown over the top of the wall by the Romans.
HH: It’s an amazing place. If anyone is going there this summer, make sure that you get into the Temple tunnel, and to those gardens.
– – – –
HH: The bad guys in this novel, Daniel Silva, are Hezbollah and Iran. I never heard about Vevak, if I’m pronouncing it correctly, Department 5 until now. And here’s what’s really chilling. You’ve got a character in here. He’s an Iranian intelligence operator, one of the original hostage takers at the American embassy in the old days, and he’s very, very good at what he does. In fact, the level of skill on the espionage and terror side that Gabriel confronts is very significant. Are you overwriting their abilities? Or are you just simply saying what you believe to be true?
DS: No, I believe it to be true. And by the way, the Israelis know how good the Iranians are. And there is a profound amount of respect on the part of the Israeli intelligence services towards their Iranian counterparts, and the people who are managing and protecting the Iranian nuclear program. These people are very good. This is an ancient empire, okay? Pick through, talking about what I’m writing in this novel, okay? Persians and Jews. This conflict has happened before. And so there is an enormous amount of respect on the part of the Israelis when it comes to the capabilities and skill of their Iranian counterparts and enemies.
HH: You write on Page 134, “For Hezbollah is like the Gambino family on steroids,” you have one of your characters say. But they tend to operate like limpets. And you talk, the Mafia has a role in The Fallen Angel as well. People are going to wonder how the heck did he put all this stuff into one book, and it works, friends. Let me tell you it works. But it’s an interesting parallel that they are an organized crime family, and at the same time, they’re a band of religious fanatics.
DS: They are involved in a global crime spree at the moment. Part of it is born of necessity, because Iran and Syria, their two clients have had to reduce payments to them, but Hezbollah has been involved in the cocaine trade, the diamond trade, all kinds of illicit activity around the world to fund their massive programs that they have inside Lebanon, and their terror networks, frankly. And in this book, I imagine that one of the illicit activities that they’re involved in is the global trade in loot and antiquities.
HH: Yeah, and back behind the ancient empire of the Persians and of the Jews, there are the Etruscans get their due in The Fallen Angel. Finally, somebody writes an Etruscan book. And so…
DS: Well, as you know, I go everywhere when I’m researching a book, and one of the places that I went were the tombs of Cerveteri, north of Rome. And a scene is set there. But the Etruscans were the people who predated the Romans, incredibly intriguing people who loved Greek vases. And that is why we find so many Greek vases in what is now Italy, is because the Etruscans adored them and loved them, and put them in their tombs. And that’s how they ended up there.
HH: And the tumbalaros, am I pronouncing that correctly?
DS: Tumbaroli – tomb raiders.
HH: This is amazing. I mean, this is fascinating and riveting. Are there, have they been solved yet? You’ve got the special Italian police department. I’m looking for the name of it here in my notes.
DS: …is the way it’s shortened. It is part of the Carbinieri. It is, as described, its location. Their job is two-fold, and that is to protect all the paintings in Italy that get stolen every year, and a museum’s worth of art gets stolen in Italy every year, but also to try to protect the enormous amount of archaeological material and antiquities that are underground. And as you can imagine, Italy is just still bursting with artifacts. And so tomb robbers and tomb raiders and dirty collectors are always trying to smuggle things out of there.
HH: Now do you happen to know any art thieves? Have you ever heard from any art thieves about your…
DS: I haven’t.
DS: But I created an interesting one in The Rembrandt Affair named Maurice Durand.
HH: Yeah, he’s great.
DS: And he reappears in this novel.
HH: He’s really wonderful.
DS: We steal a little bit of art in this novel, and we also steal a red-figured Greek vase that we need to penetrate the Hezbollah financing network.
HH: Oh, it’s fascinating, and you have to break something at some point, and I don’t want to give too much away.
DS: It’s one of the favorite scenes I’ve ever written.
HH: Yeah, now is that, does that actually happen as you described it, for the benefit of some art…
HH: Tell people about that.
DS: It is easier to smuggle a vase in pieces, obviously, and it’s easier to bring it onto the market in pieces as well. So sometimes, when the tomb raiders break into a tomb, the vase will be broken, or they’ll break it in the process of breaking into a tomb. But often times, pieces are intentionally broken in order to bring them onto the market, and then they’re reassembled.
HH: Now occasionally, I do catch, my eye will stray across a piece on the continuing battle between nation-states, about who owns the cultural artifacts of their past.
HH: Do you have a side in that? Do you think the marbles ought to go back to Greece? Or do you just report on it?
DS: I’m going to get in trouble with my Greek readers on this, but I think that the marble should stay exactly where they are.
HH: You are going to be in trouble.
DS: I really do, and I don’t expect the Louvre to give up Winged Victory or the Venus de Milo anytime soon, nor do I think that they should. And I think that by and large, Western museums have been incredible caretakers of the treasures of the ancient worlds. I am in no way suggesting that we need to return to the rapacious collecting of the past, but I do believe that the pendulum might be swinging too far on this issue.
HH: One short segment left with two important questions, America. Don’t go anywhere.
– – – –
HH: Two questions left, Daniel Silva. Are there David Gerard’s at work in this world, deep agents of the Iranian revolution who are that deeply hidden, in your opinion, and in the United States?
HH: Well, tell people what that means, because that’s really bad news.
DS: David Gerard, aka Gaud Gondour, is a Lebanese from Southern Lebanon, and he is a Hezbollah/Iranian agent working in the antiquities trade. And so your question is do the Iranian intelligence, and does Hezbollah have agents and sleepers posing within the Lebanese diaspora worldwide? And the answer was unquestionably yes.
HH: Boy, that’s troubling, because his cover is deep, he has been in place for a long, long time, and it means bad things happen to really good people if they’re ever activated.
DS: Remember that because of all the turmoil and trouble that has happened to poor Lebanon over the years, that there are millions of Lebanese all around the world, and 99.9% of them are amazing, wonderful people. But within that global diaspora of Lebanese are Hezbollah agents. And there’s just no question about that.
HH: And then the last question, you’re married to a television reporter. I’m just curious, I started watching The Newsroom a couple of days ago.
DS: I have got it on the DVR. I’m going to watch it tonight.
HH: So have you started watching it yet?
DS: I’m going to start tonight.
DS: I know that there are comparisons to Network, one of my favorite movies of all time. But I can’t wait, because I am a, I watch a lot of television news, and I have to admit that I watch a lot of cable television talk. And I love it dearly. I am deeply troubled by the impact that I think it may be having on our political discourse, that you can sit and go back and forth between MSNBC and Fox at any given moment, and be watching coverage of the same issue, and seeing it come from two radically different sides. And it makes me nervous, and so I cannot wait to watch this new series.
HH: It’s fascinating. I started off hating it, but it drew me in because the initial monologue is really left leaning.
DS: I know.
HH: It’s really left…
DS: And I’m afraid that I’m not going to like it, but I’m going to give it a shot.
HH: You’ll enjoy it. Daniel Silva, good luck on the tour. America, go to www.danielsilvabooks.com if you’re anywhere near Boston, Dallas, Denver, Houston, L.A., Miami, New York, Phoenix, Seattle, St. Louis, or just go get the book and enjoy your summer, as is always easier with a Daniel Silva novel.
End of interview.