In Uhlig’s international art thriller, a high-tech, digital portrait is special enough to die for.
Pete Barnes, an unscathed, highly successful art thief and forger, has unfortunately come to the attention of Henry Olsen—freebooting head of Special Contracts, a mercenary operation often interested in a bit of side action, like theft. Olsen wants a painting to be stolen from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Barnes has retired and refuses the work, but Olsen, a devious soul, happens to have an operative at Special Contracts, Carly Sims, who’s a killing machine and a dead ringer for Barnes late, much-loved girlfriend. But things get ugly when Carly and Pete fall in love: Pete must nab the Hermitage portrait to win Carly’s freedom, and then the two must dodge deadly pursuit from Helsinki to New York City. Uhlig deploys a good range of voices here, from tinkly to cool to pompous, from the duplicitous murmurings of Inga Robasova to the whiny plaints of Olsen and the Borat-like patter of gunrunning Grigory Rodaniko. Pete and Carly are complex, sympathetic characters, though their sex might be a bit too electric: “their bodies writhed energetically and synchronously towards orgasmic ecstasy.” Uhlig keeps the prose and the action tight, only rarely coming out with clunkers like “a darkness blacker than a thousand midnights.” He plays the story’s hand close to the chest but not annoyingly or preposterously so, even if the narrative sometimes has difficulty keeping track of its characters—Olsen becomes Olson, Trulock becomes Turlock. Amid all the action-packed fun, there’s discourse on architecture and the intricacies of museum security (motion detectors, pressure sensors, infrared detectors, biometrics, chemical markers), not to mention plans for Pete and Carly’s next adventure.
A clever heist caper and chase thriller that cunningly avoids happy coincidences.