George Weigel makes some recommendations for Christmas books today on First Things, and here's one of them:
Portrait of a Spy, by Daniel Silva (Harper): It’s hard not to get addicted to Silva’s Gabriel Allon novels of international skullduggery. James Bond and his supporting cast were cardboard cartoons compared to the fictional characters Dan Silva, a man with a well-calibrated moral compass, has created.
Now, of course we shouldn't confuse the author Daniel Sliva with the fictional character Gabriel Allon, but if Silva actually approves of the things he has his character do, it's very disturbing that a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (Weigel) thinks Silva has a "well-calibrated moral compass." In the last Silva novel I read (and I confess I find them great thrillers), Allon invents his own "enhanced interrogation technique," which he calls "fire boarding." He has people tied to chairs and positions them in front of a fireplace with a roaring fire. He then tips them into the fireplace so their faces are directly in the flames. He makes sure, when he shoots and kills the first one to be fire boarded, that blood spatters all over the next candidate. I checked Amazon to see if any other readers were as disturbed as I was about this, and one reader puts it better and more succinctly than I can:
A trained assassin who executed six of the terrorists who killed Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, Allon is certainly no stranger to killing, but the body count in this novel is higher than I can ever remember in this series, with many of the assassinations being done by Gabriel Allon himself. More than thirty violent deaths occur during the novel as Allon tries to save his own world from disaster. One scene of torture involving Allon ("fire-boarding") is so stomach-turning—and, frankly, so sadistic—that it has permanently affected my view of Allon as a "hero." Silva does a terrific job of depicting the inner torments that drive Allon to such extremes, but while some may justify this torture scene in terms of the ends justifying the means, I found it so over-the-top that I could no longer excuse Allon's brutal responses, even considering his extreme stress.
Yes, Gabriel Allon has "inner torments," but they never seem to bother him enough for him to stop the torture and assassinations. The novels are great reads, but if Silva expects us to take Allon to be a hero whose methods are justified because they are all done for the state of Israel, I question the calibration of his moral compass.