A Dangerous Talent, by Aaron & Charlotte Elkins (review)

October 17, 2014 Book Reviews 7 ★★★★

A Dangerous Talent, by Aaron & Charlotte Elkins (review)A Dangerous Talent by Aaron Elkins, Charlotte Elkins
Series: Alix London #1
Published by Thomas & Mercer on Mar. 6, 2012
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 255
Source: purchased
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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.



About Aaron Elkins

Aaron J. Elkins (born Brooklyn July 24, 1935) is an American mystery writer. He is best known for his series of novels featuring forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver—the ‘skeleton detective’. The fourth Oliver book, Old Bones, received the 1988 Edgar Award for Best Novel. As Oliver is a world-renowned authority, he travels around the world and each book is set in a different and often exotic locale.

Elkins also penned the Chris Norgren series featuring a museum curator who is an expert in Northern Renaissance art. In addition, he has several stand-alone thrillers, including Loot deals with art stolen by the Nazis and introduces protagonist Dr. Benjamin Revere.

With his wife, Charlotte Elkins, he has also co-written two mystery series, the Lee Ofsted golf mysteries and the Alix London art mysteries. The Elkins shared an Agatha Award for their short story “Nice Gorilla”.

About Charlotte Elkins

When Charlotte Elkins was working as the American Art librarian at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, she took a fling at writing a romance. To her mild surprise, it was accepted by a major publisher. Then, when her grant-funded position at the museum ended, she went on to four more romances under the pen-name Emily Spenser. They were translated and sold in more than twenty countries. But soon she found that collaborating with her husband on mysteries was more fun, and the first Lee Ofsted novel, A Wicked Slice, was the result. The authors were encouraged by the reception from reviewers and fans and went on to collaborate on four more Lee Ofsteds. In between, they put out the occasional short story, one of which, “Nice Gorilla,” won the Agatha Award for best short story of the year in 1992.

Currently, Charlotte is working with Aaron on their new mystery series about “the art whisperer,” Alix London, in a venture that takes Charlotte back to her roots in the world of fine art.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2014
  • TBR Pile Reading Challenge 2014

7 Responses to “A Dangerous Talent, by Aaron & Charlotte Elkins (review)”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      By the end of book two, she’s come to terms with her dad a bit more, but in book one, there’s a lot of pain. I ended up buying them; I started with this book because it was on sale, and thought, oh, why not get the other two. Haven’t had time to read book three yet, though!

  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    I loved the Chris Norgen books and was sad that there weren’t any more of them. I had kind of forgotten about them but I always enjoyed it more than his other series (Gideon Oliver maybe?) I’ll definitely have to give this a try. I’m pretty sure I own at least 2 of this series but haven’t read them yet. Thanks for sharing!
    Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library recently posted…Friday Linkups: The Bone RoomMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I had the same feeling about the Chris Norgren books. He gets a cameo mention in this book, but he doesn’t make an appearance.