NOT SO SIMPLE ART: JONATHAN SANTLOFER'S THE LOST VAN GOGH
Jonathan Santlofer uses the thriller to take us into the world of art and the people who move in it. An accomplished artist himself, he does deep research in stories where art and crime entwine. With his latest, The Lost Van Gogh, he uses a painting by one of the greats to link histories and examine questions of ownership.
He returns to his core characters of The Last Mona Lisa. Luke Perrone and Alex Verde, two descendents of art thieves working, respectively, as a painter and historian, discover another painting under one Luke purchased at an estate sale. Appearances hint at a Van Gogh self portrait. When Alex goes to have it appraised, she's jumped and robbed of the painting. This brings in John Michael Smith, the Interpol Art Crime agent in the previous book, now working private.
Santofer uses the painting as more than just a macguffin for the plot. It links us to different periods from Van Gogh's time, German occupied France, to the present, examining the value of the painting and art itself throughout history, as it falls into different hands. It becomes a character as much as Luke, Alex, and Smith as they race around different countries to keep it from the wrong hands.
The book employs details of the art world to create a living, breathing society under our own. Details like how a painting was signed in Van Gogh's era play an integral parts to the story and not just as color. By immersing us into this culture of our heroes, their situations and feelings for the painting mean as much to us as them.
The Lost Van Gogh delivers all the genre goods at a well crafted level, especially with a tense conclusion involving the hand off of the painting. Still, it's most engaging moments occur when Santlofer introduces us to the aspects of his world. We get an understanding of how art is connected to history, politics and our own lives.