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A possibly forged French masterpiece provides the battleground for an archly amusing game of cat and mouse. Charles Vermeille is the world’s premier expert on the work of 17th-century master Claude Lorrain. From his eminent perch at the College de France, the widower Vermeille—arrogant, imperious, and plainspoken—hands down edicts on the authenticity of Lorrain’s oft-copied work whose authority is beyond appeal. But all is not well with Charles. Soon after returning from a conference at which he declined to fall under the well-exercised spell of British preservationist Jane Caldwell, he begins to receive photographs of his adored son Jean-Louis. The photos themselves are innocuous—the young man is surfing, playing tennis, reading on a balcony—but their regular arrival, postmarked from all over Europe and unaccompanied by a word of explanation or demand, soon comes to seem sinister. Nor does a panicky visit to Berkeley, where Jean-Louis, hale and happy, is studying for an M.B.A., alleviate Charles’s fears or stem the ominous flow of photos, one of them now accompanied by a newspaper clipping recounting the Onassis heir’s death. Who could be tormenting Charles in such an exquisitely oblique way? Reviewing and rejecting all his obvious enemies (whom his agonized list rather implausibly restricts to three), Charles can only assume that his ordeal has something to do with his expertise in Lorrain. But Fiechter, in a plot closely reminiscent of his Death by Publication (1995), has already broadly hinted that the scorned Jane is the perpetrator. In an impassioned bid to get revenge on her own distant father who ignored and undervalued her even before paralysis made him a vegetable—a father she can’t help seeing in Charles’she’s concocted a cleverly symmetrical scheme to capitalize on Charles’s love for his son. What that scheme is, and how it fares, are matters best left to Fiechter’s telling. Slight, elegant, and urbane, with a malicious final twist that’s as perfectly effervescent as chilled champagne.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-55970-430-6
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998