Daniel Silva, The Order (2020)
If there were an award for the best opening chapter of a fiction, including characterization, dialogue, plot and theme, the first chapter of The Order would be in the running. Daniel Silva, after all, is no amateur in beginning a novel that feels that it has been recorded by cameras, microphones and probes into each characters mind. The initial scene in The Order suggests something tragic has happened at the Vatican. The chapter’s main character, Archbishop Luigi Donati, fears the worst. It turns out his mentor, Pope Paul VII, is dead and the circumstances are suspicious.
Thus begins a narrative featuring the Church of Rome and the Church’s most trusted Jew––Gabriel Allon. The complexity, including a fictional account of the origins of the Church, is portrayed realistically, with verve and in a tasteful manner, considering Allon’s role, must represent a heresy to millions.
Needing help, Donati pulls Allon away from a vacation with his wife and children in Venice where they are considering houses for the days when he retires. In a sense, The Order, moves that day to closer at hand. I hope this is not Silva’s last Gabriel Allon novel because each of the previous 20 are masterpieces of creative fiction, character exposition and plotting.
Among the qualities that make Silva’s fiction so engrossing are his mastery of his subject matter and his ability to portray that knowledge in a manner that doesn’t overburden the reader or count on the reader’s memorizing arcane pieces of information. It’s his knowledge of the Vatican and the Catholic Church, including the detailed knowledge of the layout of the buildings and their contents that is most impressive.
In The Order, his description of the inner workings of the Church include the procedure for selecting a new pope as well detailing the entities, positions, relationships of various clergy who live and work in the Vatican. It seems so real, you have to believe Silva is just repeating what happened rather than making it up.
Something must be said for the subject matter: a Jewish author writing about an Israeli who is intimately involved in the workings of the Catholic Church. It takes hutzpah to even attempt this much less to bring it off without offending Church officials as well as ordinary church members. Silva does so with such ease that we do not stop mid-reading to question the accuracy much less the propriety of the story’s theme and concluding chapters.