A lost painting attributed to Rembrandt resurfaces, sparking a pursuit by rich collectors, criminals, and the rightful heir.
“Thieves! Thieves! You’re peddling Nazi plunder!” With these words, Daniel Stein interrupts the $50 million auction of a Rembrandt painting titled Girl with Cat. He recognizes it as a work belonging to his grandfather, who was murdered in 1940 by the Nazis, who stole his valuable art collection. The auction’s bidding started at $10 million and could have reached far higher, but now the sale is halted to investigate Daniel’s hotly contested claim. Interested parties include professor Ward Aynsworth of Columbia University, an art expert retained to authenticate the piece by Wellington’s, the auction house; British auction supervisor Doria Wetton; and Forbes Harrington, a ruthless businessman who tasks his art adviser, Langford Jameson, with obtaining the picture. Centrally involved is Cory Chandler, a 20-something “rakishly handsome” recent widower who teaches art appreciation at a California community college. New to the field and unpublished, he nevertheless becomes Stein’s advocate. The unfolding story takes readers into high-end art’s seamy side: Nazi theft, the forgery process and its complications, unscrupulous private collectors, Swiss bank vaults, and money laundering. As Daniel and Cory track the painting in Europe, they race against shady art dealers and mob loan sharks. Dall (Snapshot, 2014) writes a twisty, engaging thriller bolstered by absorbing details, such as practices and methods of art forgery or the establishment of provenance. The story moves at a nice clip, and Dall keeps the reader well oriented among a plethora of characters. The author falters, though, with Doria, 26, who seems like a throwback to another era. She works at the world’s third-largest auction house, supervising multimillion-dollar sales, but to Cory, she looks like “a little girl posing in daddy’s chair.” He calls her “sweetheart,” winks at her, and tells her to “clamp the hostility.” Few ambitious women would be attracted to such condescension, but Doria loves it, even gladly giving up her prestigious job to support Cory’s dreams.
The romance becomes off-putting, but the remainder of this art-world thriller zings.