PROVENANCE by Frank McDonald
Kirkus Star

PROVENANCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Nazi art-thefts are hardly new to fiction, but that history has given McDonald a strong center--a 1940 incident in occupied France that still haunts the art-world of 1979--for this overplotted, serviceably written thriller-saga. What happened in 1940? To save his collection, young Jewish art-dealer Andr‚ Rostand secretly told the Nazis where to find other Jews' hidden treasures--a betrayal masked by the fact that the Nazis also tortured those secret hiding-places out of collector Paul Drach, a noble, non-Jewish collector who then died mysteriously (suicide?). And now, 40 years later, old Andr‚ Rostand is haunted by guilt (also for his affair with Drach's Jewish wife, later a death-camp victim) and confronted with the past--when his Nazi co-conspirator (now a Vatican monsignor) demands Rostand's aid in selling off all that stolen, long-hidden art. The primary obstacle to this scheme: Drach's son Alex, an art-theft expert who has a just claim to much of that art and who is beginning to have suspicions about Rostand, his mentor. So, naturally, the ex-Nazi is trying to kill Alex, while Rostand is torn between saving his reputation and redeeming his sins (especially since Alex is probably really his son, not Drach's). This all adds up to a surefire premise, but McDonald nearly buries it in commercially-minded, inflated subplots and complications: the saga-history of Rostand's family dealership, in clumsy flashbacks that feature guest appearances by Matisse and J. P. Morgan; Rostand's financial duel against a ""ring"" of rival dealers, a recurrent distraction with a less-than-convincing art-auction milieu; a ludicrously contrived concentration-camp-revenge subplot; and Alex's liaison with courtesan Cubitt, which allows for some thoroughly gratuitous sex--including a threesome-cum-cocaine that reads as if it strayed in from some other, grosser book. An overblown, derivative mix of genres, then, but enough of the basic historical-suspense grab remains to make this (with a book-club boost) a fair and fairly inoffensive contender for the undemanding audience floating somewhere between Helen Maclnnes and Irving Wallace.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1979
Publisher: Atlantic/Little, Brown