THE CêZANNE CHASE by Thomas Swan


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 Busy debut of a British police procedural series featuring the quietly competent Detective Chief Inspector Jack Oxby of the New Scotland Yard Art and Antiques squad. Set primarily in Britain in 1995, Swan's first hardcover opens with a Mission: Impossiblelike smoking briefcase in London's National Gallery. As the fumes disperse, a small self-portrait by Paul CÇzanne melts into bluish, brownish goo. When another CÇzanne self-portrait owned by sleazy British financial speculator Alan Pinkster apparently suffers a similar fate, mild-mannered Inspector Oxby is assigned to investigate. A multilingual aesthete who spends his lunch hours communing with ghosts in Westminster Abbey, Oxby suppresses his dislike of CÇzannes (``I'd be mad as hell if this were happening to a Manet or a Degas'')--when the curator of Pinkster's collection is found murdered by an ingenious poison gas bomb. Before we can ask the multi-million-dollar question (why would anyone want to vandalize any of the 25 extant CÇzanne self- portraits?), we meet the villains: dour Norwegian chemical analyst Peder Aukurst and his sultry, pill-popping sidekick, Astrid Harroldsen, who breaks down in tears at the beauty of the painting she must zap with acid-laced hairspray. Both are in the employ of Pinkster, whose sudden financial difficulties have compelled him to turn a fast buck selling stolen art to Japanese collectors who don't ask questions. With fewer self-portraits around, the one that Pinkster wants to unload (which may not have been destroyed in the first place) will fetch a higher price. Against such intricately detailed background, Swan's too-numerous gaggle of supporting characters fade, including Oxby's oddly named helpers (are we supposed to think of the painter Berthe Morisot when we meet an art historian named Bertie Morrison?) and a fiesty French mobster named LaToque, fade. Competently researched and knowledgeable but an unfocused (if promising) debut. (Book-of-the-Month Club featured selection)

Pub Date: March 14th, 1997
ISBN: 1-55704-304-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Newmarket Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1997


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