is the sixth novel in author Daniel Silva’s long-running spy and thriller series about Mossad agent Gabriel Allon. Published in 2006, it follows the protagonist’s efforts to prevent a terrorist attack that is targeting the Pope. At the same time, it delves slightly into his personal life, as he moves on from his tragic first marriage into a new relationship.
Our protagonist is the sabra Gabriel Allon, one of the world’s preeminent art restorers and also a top-level spy who works for an Israeli intelligence agency known to its employees as “the Office” (which is Mossad’s unofficial nickname in real life). After the events of the previous novel, in which Allon’s identity as an undercover agent was blown, he has decided to retire from espionage and instead focus on his true passion – restoring artwork for a London-based art dealer, Julian Isherwood.
But soon, Allon’s plans to retreat from the spy game have to be scrapped, and he is called back into the Office for a special assignment by his mentor and former boss, Israeli special advisor on security and terrorism Ari Shamron. Islamic moderate Professor Ali Massoudi has been murdered in London, and his death has revealed that Massoudi was actually an al-Qaeda operative. A laptop recovered from the scene is filled with detailed information about the Vatican, leading Shamron to believe that the Pope is in danger.
Allon heads to the Vatican, linking up with Monsignor Luigi Donati, private secretary to His Holiness Pope Paul VII. Although Donati is able to beef up security, the Pope ignores Allon’s advice to cancel a large outdoor ceremony, or at least move it indoors. Just as Allon predicted, three suicide bombers attack the event and kill more than 700 worshippers. Allon is able to whisk Pope Paul to safety.
Connecting the bombing with a suspicious death of a Swiss Guard in St. Peter's Basilica, the Office pins the whole operation on a powerful terrorist network funded by reclusive Saudi billionaire Abdul Aziz al-Bakari, better known as Zizi, and orchestrated by mastermind Ahmed bin Shafiq, “a former chief of a clandestine Saudi intelligence unit, who has set up his own ‘Jihad Incorporated’ organization.” In response, Shamron’s car is bombed, leaving Allon’s mentor in critical condition.
Allon approaches the CIA with a scheme to infiltrate Zizi’s inner circle, and potentially gain access to both him and to bin Shafiq. While little is known about the extravagant billionaire, one thing is certain: he is an avid collector of Impressionist paintings, and it is possible that dangling a rare masterwork as bait might work to flush him out of hiding. The CIA recruits for their mission the beautiful American art curator Sarah Bancroft. She is the perfect mole: a knowledgeable and successful dealer of European background who is eager to exact revenge on al-Qaeda after losing her fiancé in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.
Together with Allon’s London dealer Isherwood, Bancroft manages to lure Zizi with a Van Gogh painting that was thought to have been destroyed. Zizi eagerly buys the work, and then hires Bancroft as his personal art director to continue working on his collection. To cement the new arrangement, he invites her onto his yacht in the Caribbean.
Although Allon is doing his best to track Bancroft, the situation is incredibly dicey for her. Zizi’s security guards never let her out of their sight, and she is clearly in incredible danger. At one point, Allon gets too close to Zizi’s ship, eager to assassinate bin Shafiq, who is also on board – but this increased activity makes Zizi’s security team immediately suspect Bancroft of duplicity and take her hostage.
Bancroft is taken to a secret location in Switzerland, where Zizi’s goons drug and interrogate her until she tells them everything she knows about Allon and his team. But just in the nick of time, Allon is able to figure out where Bancroft is being held, rescue her, and kill her torturers. Bancroft reveals that a gloating bin Shafiq told her that another terrorist attack on the Vatican was imminent.
Allon realizes that this attack will target not just the Pope, but also the President of the United States who is scheduled to visit Rome soon. Although it is clear that the attack will take place while the President is meeting the Pope, Allon is unable to figure out just who in the crowd is the assassin. A Swiss Guard – the man who replaced the murdered Swiss Guard at the beginning of the novel – emerges from the crowd and fires at the President, but Monsignor Donati jumps in front of him and takes the bullets instead. Allon kills the Guard before the man can shoot again.
Donati and Shamron both recover from the injuries they sustained. The CIA gives Bancroft a new identity and she starts a brand new life. We also learn that after the failed attack on the President, Allon and his team find and kill both Zizi and bin Shafiq.
The novel ends with Allon rekindling his long-simmering romance with Chiara Zolli, an Italian-born Office field operative. He realizes that he is deeply in love with her, and that he would like to marry her. But there is a complication: Allon’s first wife, a woman who has been confined to a psychiatric institution after a horrible accident that injured her and killed their young son. Allon visits her in the hospital and works up the courage to tell her that he would like to marry again.