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The Lost Van Gogh

The Lost Van Gogh - A.J. Zerries I started reading this book in June of 2012. I finished it yesterday. It’s not that I've been reading one page a day for the last year or so; I just started on it, got about halfway through it, and then found something else to read. And then something else. And so on and so on. That might suggest that the book wasn't all that interesting, but it was just a matter of not really wanting to read, period, and that when I finally did want to, I was reading other things. But since I had reached the halfway point, and it was at least interesting enough for me to wonder what happened in the end, I finally picked it back up and decided to finish it.

The story is about two van Gogh paintings that have been missing since World War II, and the wild ride that takes place when one of them shows up at a dealer's office by FedEx. Clay Rider works for the NYPD, and his specialty is in art crimes, so of course he’s put on the case. He spends time tracking down where it came from, who sent it, how they got it, etc., which is a pretty big deal since this is one of two famously missing works by van Gogh. He eventually works out a line of ownership, which ends with a woman who lives in New York. She waffles over what to do with it (many major art dealers are trying to convince her to sell it), and she finally decides to keep it after hosting a big to-do at a gallery to introduce the painting to the world. Once she does, through, the story turns from a police procedural novel to a thriller of sorts, as suddenly the woman is the target of many attacks.

Now, I mentioned above that I read the first half of the novel and then set it aside for something different. All that I described above, up to the gallery exhibition, takes place in the first half of the book. The second half is the thriller part, which is an examination of the black market art underworld. The first half is entertaining and interesting, and is a bit more cerebral as Ryder has to track down who owned the paintings in the past. The second half is compelling and intriguing, due to the action and the setup of events. It took me by surprise — there's a twist that was unexpected, but turned out not to be out of place — and from then on, I had to see how the events played out.

The book winds up feeling like two different stories, which is good and bad. The way I read the book, the division was so clear and the time passed so great that I didn't feel like it was disjointed. Had I read it all at once, I might feel differently. But the two parts work well together, and they complement each other perfectly. You can't have the action without the investigation, and the way the authors (A.J. Zerries is a pen-name for a husband-wife writing team) created the backstory was pretty impressive. I don't know much about van Gogh, but apparently these two paintings really exist, and they really did go missing for a number of years. The true story is different from what the authors put together, but everything, from the start of the novel to the end, was put together so it was all important in one way or another.

The story reads like a beach read, but it's not quite as compelling as other beach read novels. The first half of the novel was a bit slower, and even when the action got underway in the second half, large chunks of the story were dialogue dumps where one character brought the others (and the reader) up to speed. It was necessary, but it slowed down the action, because those bits were so complex that they would take several pages to cover.

The characters were also less vivid than I'm used to. They weren't bad characters, nor were they inconsistent (that I can recall), but they just weren't as lively. I rooted for the protagonists, but there wasn't as much of an emotional attachment as I would have liked there to be. It was enough to keep me interested, but not so much that I couldn't wait a year to see what happened in the end.

It's hard to recommend it, despite what I liked about it. This isn't a memorable book, and I imagine there are other books out there in its two genres that are better than this. I don't regret reading it, but it's just not great enough to recommend it wholeheartedly. If you're into art and police novels, though, it's at least worth investigating.