Series: Alix London #1
Published by Thomas & Mercer on Mar. 6, 2012
Also by this author: Dying on the Vine, Switcheroo
Alix London has a promising career as an art consultant, a sumptuous condo in Seattle’s toniest neighborhood, a gorgeous figure, and a presence that exudes Ivy League breeding and old money. She has it all…or does she? Only Alix knows that the image she presents to the world is a carefully constructed mirage that veils an embarrassing truth. A brilliant, once-promising art student, the daughter of a prominent New York art conservator, her world was left in ruins when her father went to prison for art forgery. Now a Harvard dropout with an emptied bank account, she is languishing in a career that has produced little more than a lucky house-sitting gig.
But all of that changes when Alix meets Christine Lemay, a novice art collector with money to burn and a hot tip on a recently discovered painting by American master Georgia O’Keeffe. Chris hires Alix to perform the authentication, an assignment that finally could launch Alix into the big leagues. But soon after her arrival in Santa Fe, she finds herself tangled up in a web of forgery, deceit—and murder. Anxious to avoid becoming the next victim, she teams up with FBI Special Agent Ted Ellesworth—and gets a little unlikely help from her roguish father—to uncover the truth behind the painting and those who would kill to have it.
Sharp, witty, and devilishly fun, A Dangerous Talent offers an insider’s look into the surprisingly treacherous contemporary art world.
I’ve enjoyed Aaron Elkins’ mysteries for years, both his solo series and his collaborations with his wife Charlotte. So when A Dangerous Talent came out a few years ago, I was excited. The short-lived Chris Norgren series had intrigued me with its insider view of the art and forgery world, and here was a new series set in the same milieu. I put a hold request in at the library – but other books came along and I never got around to reading it. Bless Amazon; they put it on sale for Kindle and I snapped it up. . . and discovered one of the better Elkins novels I’ve read in recent years.
Alix is a great character. She has more than a little baggage, both emotionally and in terms of her career. It’s not easy for the daughter of a noted-conservator-cum-infamous-forger to make her living in the art world, no matter how expert she is at restoration nor how keen her eye. Alix has an uncanny gift for identifying forgeries on sight, often without knowing why she knows a piece is forged until she’s had time to reflect on it. But with her father’s reputation dragging at her heels – and no college degree – she’s barely making ends meet.
She’s got a rocky relationship with her father, as well. The Elkins portray Alix’s emotional life well, balancing the pain, resentment, and love she feels for her father against her fierce determination to succeed in the life she has chosen.
Chris LeMay, who hires Alix to authenticate an O’Keefe painting she is buying, is less complex but very likeable: forthright to the point of bluntness, and with a spirit that embraces life with gusto. Chris is a Silicon Valley millionaire, down-to-earth despite her newfound wealth. She’s a good foil for the patrician Alix, and the two strike up an unlikely but very real friendship.
Alix’s relationship with FBI agent Ted Ellesworth, like the one with her father, is more complicated. The two are initially suspicious of each other, and only learn to trust each other grudgingly. Despite that, there is an undoubted attraction between them. Since Ted works in the FBI’s art division, I’m hopeful that he’ll be a recurring character, and I can’t wait to see where their relationship goes.
The plot is convoluted enough to stay interesting, and the murderer’s identity will probably come as a surprise to many readers. There’s plenty of danger to add to the tension, as well. But what I enjoyed most, beyond the characters and their interactions, was the glimpse into the world of art and forgeries, and the vividly-described New Mexico setting. Having spent a fair bit of time in Santa Fe and Taos, and even driven the canyon road which plays a significant part in the mystery, I can say that the Elkins know their ground, geographically-speaking. While I’m no expert, they seem to know their stuff when it comes to the art world as well, writing with both authority and humor, particularly about the more pretensious side of the contemporary art scene.
If you like your mysteries peopled with interesting characters and enjoy a bit of vicarious travel, A Dangerous Talent is picture-perfect.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2014