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A Dangerous Talent - Aaron Elkins

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Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: Aaron Elkins, Charlotte Elkins / Kindle Edition / 270 Pages / Book is published 2012-03-06 by Thomas & Mercer

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      27.03.2012 16:17
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      thriller set in the world of art

      The reason why the book A Dangerous Talent caught my attention may have been that I had just read an interview with the greatest art forger in Post War Germany. He admits forging hundreds of paintings in the style of 50 different artists. He's a criminal because he sold them as originals (for many millions of Euro). For this he'll have to go to prison for six years. But he's also a genius, because art critics have never become suspicious. The widow of the surrealist Max Ernst said, when she saw a painting in the style of her husband, "This is the best Max Ernst I've ever seen." In the end he stumbled over an incomplete label on a tube of white paint. A buyer had his painting analysed and an ingredient was found which didn't exist yet at the time of the painter. The firm producing the paint had forgotten to include it on the label so that the forger couldn't know about it.

      Who can buyers of artefacts rely on? That's a tough question. A case like the one I've mentioned is rare, usually art critics, curators and restorers can smell a rat when they see one. Christine (Chris) LeMay, a stinking rich business woman from Seattle, decides to spend her money on art among other things (one can only have so and so many flats and cars). She hires Alix London as an art consultant. She's been informed by a gallery owner in Santa Fe that a recently discovered landscape painting by the American artist Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986) is for sale for three million dollars. It's not the price that bothers her, but she doesn't want to be cheated. As she knows next to nothing about art, she feels safer with an expert at her side who can perform authentication before her handing over the money.

      Alix London was once a brilliant Ivy League art student with a promising career. Well-bred with good connections, East Coast money exuding from every pore. All this meant nothing any more when her father, a prominent New York art conservator, went to prison for art forgery. She dropped out of uni and spent the money meant for her further education on lawyers to help him without him ever knowing. She felt it was her duty to do so but she's never forgiven him that he destroyed her life. She restores picture for rich clients and thusly earns a small living. She hopes that the well-paid job Chris offers her may be the breakthrough professionally and financially.

      I don't know what comes to your mind when you hear Santa Fe. For me it's the image of the American West as transported by innumerable Westerns. It certainly came as a surprise to read, "As American cities went, Santa Fe was tiny-508th in population...-but it comprised the third largest art market in the country. Third! Only in New York and LA did more art-related money change hands."

      Alix thinks that she'll get some quiet hours to examine the picture in detail, but soon broohaha breaks loose. Her cottage on the premises of the hotel is blown up by a gas explosion before she can move in. The picture is stolen from the gallery, the gallery owner is killed. When she and Chris go to another town and have to drive along a dangerous stretch of road through the mountains, two thugs try to run them off the road into an abyss. What's going on? And is the picture genuine or fake?

      Concerning the thriller aspect, A Dangerous Talent is a decent affair. You won't bite your nails reading it or call in sick in the morning because you had to finish it during the night, but it's thrilling enough, at least for my taste. What got me hooked from the start is the setting, the world of art, art dealers and art forgery. Art forgery is an art in itself, there's so much to know, it's amazing. Alix isn't a specialist at detecting forgeries, but she knows a lot and has a well developed instinct. Instinct isn't enough, though, she needs proof. So she calls one of her father's former forger buddies (forging O'Keeffes was his speciality) and describes the picture to him. Simply by listening to her he knows at once what's what. I find that fascinating. I find art fascinating and everything that has to do with art. Because of this I'm in two minds about rating the book. It's a five star one for me, but I can imagine that other readers who don't share my interest don't like it at all and waver between one star and zilch. All the discussions about art and related topics may bore them stiff. Just like I consider novels featuring sports (Cricket! Baseball!) to be torture instruments and a case for Amnesty International. But as this is an opinionating site and this is *my* review, five stars it is.

      So there's crime. What about sex? Is it possible nowadays to offer a thriller to a publishing house without a hot sex scene every other page? Obviously it is. I must say, I'm grateful for this. Some time ago I read a series of thrillers where I imagined the author strategically sprinkling sex scenes throughout the books in order to keep the readers' interest awake (I persevered because it was good in other aspects). My reaction, however, was increasing boredom. The issue is kind of samey, isn't it? This leads to the deplorable fact that its description is also kind of samey.

      Alix is an attractive young woman, a single divorcee after a marriage lasting eleven (!) days. Is there really no young man involved in the goings-on? Well, there is one, only he's a somewhat slimey middle-man between art dealers and buyers. He's handsome but arrogant oozing money from his 200$ hair cut to his 500$ loafers. But is he really what he seems to be? Their getting to know each other is a nice change from the usual meet-and-hop-into-bed-at-once routine.

      Charlotte and Aaron Elkins have both a long list of titles under their respective belts, A Dangerous Talent is the first book they worked on together. Others with different protagonists have followed. Charlotte claims to be the imaginative one who can come up with plots in no time, whereas Aaron is the wordsmith able to make readable stories out of them. They've promised to write more Alix London thrillers, I look forward to them!

      I've only got a tiny niggle: I hate names for fictional characters like Chris, Pat, Sam, Les et al which are used for men and women. If I see a person, I have no probs, in books I have. What annoys me especially is that the main protagonist in three other thrillers by Aaron Elkins is called Chris, too. Here it's a man's name. Silly! As if there weren't enough English first names to choose from.

      As a consequence of reading A Dangerous Talent I've already

      - read three further thrillers by Aaron Elkins (the ones with the male Chris character) featuring a curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art at the Seattle Art Museum and his adventures in the international world of art forgery and

      - bought a train ticket to Munich where the greatest ever exhibition of Georgia O'Keeffe's pictures in Germany is on at the moment.

      What more recommendation can there be?

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