Monday, 19 October 2009

The Nazis Strike Again

Art thefts by the Nazis during World War II are tailormade for thrillers about art. Aaron Elkins' "Loot: A Novel", is one of the best of the genre. It features Ben Revere, a retired art historian and curator who occasionally moonlights for the police.

In the last convulsive days of World War II a convoy of Nazi trucks loaded with Europe's greatest art treasures winds its way through the Alps toward a cavernous Austrian salt mine. With the Allies closing in and chaos erupting, a single truck silently disappears into a mountain snowstorm with its cargo of stolen masterpieces.

Fifty years later, in a seedy Boston pawnshop, one of the truck's paintings surfaces at last, pawned for $100 by a smalltime Russian thug. The next day, the shop owner, Simeon Pawlovsky, himself a Nazi death camp survivor, is dead, the life brutally beaten out of him. The painting is gone and Ben is on the case.

"The English Assassin" by Daniel Silva is a part of the author's scrupulously researched series about Gabriel Allon, an art restorer and former member of the Israeli Secret Service.

Switzerland's shameful WWII record of profiteering and collaboration with Nazi Germany
provides the backdrop for this superbly crafted thriller. When Gabriel Allon is sent to Zurich to restore the painting of a reclusive millionaire banker, he arrives to find his would-be employer murdered at the foot of his treasured Raphael.

A secret collection of priceless, illicitly gained Impressionist masterpieces is missing. Gabriel’s former Mossad handlers step out of the shadows to admit the truth—the collector had been silenced. Gabriel is put back in the high-stakes spy game, battling wits with the rogue assassin he helped to train.

The briskly moving story is full of unexpected twists – I found it a real page-turner and I learnt some interesting things along the way!

The Van Gogh Conspiracy

by J. Madison Davis

A bit of a far-fetched tale, this one, but it is an engaging story, well told. What would a conspiracy theory be without Hitler and the Nazis? Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda just don't have the same je ne sais quoi … for one thing, a tea towel and a night shirt can't hope to compete for sexy menace with jackboots and a cap with a death's head badge, worn at a rakish angle. Osama needs a new stylist.

But I digress – back to The Van Gogh Conspiracy: a "new" painting by Van Gogh is discovered in the barn of a rural French farmhouse. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam authenticates the painting and the poor French family in whose barn it was discovered stands to collect millions once the painting is auctioned.

Enter a holocaust survivor living in New York, who claims the painting is actually his, stolen from him during WW2 by You-Know-Who. He hires a team to help him prove that the "bill of sale" he has in Van Gogh’s handwriting is authentic.

The international investigation leads to the discovery of yet another never-before-seen Van Gogh. Soon it is revealed that someone working in the Van Gogh Museum has access to an entire horde of famous paintings looted by the Nazis during World War II. This evildoer has been secretly sending them to former Nazis around the world.

Suspend disbelief, enter into the paranoid spirit of the conspiracy theorists, and you have a good read on your hands!

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