A first novel from the Brooklyn-born Schwartz, based in the Netherlands since 1965, that may lead some to think that art historians should stick to art and leave the suspense to more accomplished storytellers. Schwartz (Rembrandt, 1992) is nevertheless an expert both on the Netherlands and the Dutch art scene, with at least a passing familiarity with the New York gallery world, and his hero here is Lodewijk Alstad, a 29-year-old art-historian-cum-dealer hustling his way either to runaway success or utter failure. Lodewijk's fate depends on a series of sales of old- master works, and to bring about that end he has betrayed his mentor, deceived an art journal, and gotten himself embroiled in the dicey affairs of Mitchell Fleishig, a Beverly Hills real-estate magnate whose fortunes are plunging and whose future is mortgaged to the Mob. On top of all this, Lodewijk is having girlfriend troubles and suffering from periodic bouts of anxiety seemingly linked to his family's long-ago persecutions at the hands of the Nazis. Juggling deals from Houston to California, and persuading his crotchety aunt to part with a valuable painting by Emanuel de Witte, Lodewijk first bumbles and then speeds toward a fated confrontation with Fleishig's Mafia bosses, eventually stealing back the de Witte that Fleishig has desperately stolen from him, though not before evading a couple of attempts on his life. Throughout, Schwartz clogs the already clogged narrative with a dry- toned analysis of the glorious history of Dutch painting, snoozy travelogues of Amsterdam, and with a full chapter that attacks the mandarin lifestyles of scholars. Those specially interested in the Dutch masters may find a degree of allure here; readers in search of sharper plotting and more daring characters, though, may as well steer clear. If the art world were as unequivocally callow as Schwartz implies, it would have self- destructed ages ago.
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