Monday 4 January 2016

Gallery Pieces by Larry Witham (Archway Publishing 2016)

In his forties, Julian Peale is getting a fresh start. Formerly in Navy intelligence, he's cast his lot in the New York art world. He's landed a job with the venerable Medici Studios, which also contracts with the NYPD and FBI. On a winter morning, they've run a sting operation to track Russian art smugglers. The caper goes awry, but an odd bit of evidence remains: four art catalogs with graffiti markings.
So begins Gallery Pieces, a story that will keep readers guessing until the end. Peale follows the clues where they lead. He meets a heavy at the Miami Art Fair, chases a mystery bidder at Merriweather's auction in Manhattan, and crosses paths with a Brooklyn performance artist whose pranks are dangerously entangled in the Russian intrigues. Step by step, Peale enters an art world permeated not only by the avant-garde, but by the Russian mob, hackers, forgers, hipsters, and the history of art looting in Europe during WWII.
When Peale least expects it, the catalogs lead him on another trail. He is drawn into a long-forgotten mystery surrounding his grandfather, Maxwell Peale, who had been a “monuments man,” a soldier who helped reclaim art looted by the Nazis. Peale is on his way to discovering paintings stolen in postwar Europe. Finding the culprits, however, brings him closer to home than he'd imagined.


An intelligent and complex mystery set in the highbrow art world. Anyone with an interest in history, art and the mystery genre will find themselves engrossed in this fascinating tale involving art fraud and organised crime.

The author, Larry Witham, expertly guides the reader through the complexities of the art world and introduces us to the various players involved in the art scene. The investigation takes many twists and turns involving various dangerous and mysterious characters.

The crux of the story lies in the origins of the stolen art as well as the part played by the monuments men, one of whom was Peale's grandfather, in the retrieval of looted art from the Nazis and their ultimate fate once they reached America. In order to put the puzzle pieces together, Julian Peale has to investigate the involvement of the Russian mob, hipsters, hackers, art collectors, sellers and old friends.

I was impressed by the wealth of knowledge the author has in his subject material. In a book of this kind, where the author is so knowledgeable, there is the danger of slowing the pace with the minutiae of art theory and historical detail but Larry Witham manages to avoid this pitfall. He expertly balances the mix between fact and fiction and just gives the right amount of information to complement the plot. It certainly whetted my interest in learning more about art crime and the work of art experts who are trained to spot works of art looted during WWII.

I highly recommend this excellent, fast paced mystery. It won't fail to interest and entertain.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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