Zany characters, a light touch, and improbable occurrences give this entertaining novel a distinctly Carl Hiaasen flavor.
Set sometime before the Concorde stopped flying in 2003, this mad tale of art theft, forgeries, missteps and mayhem, is set in the U.S. and U.K. The large cast of characters includes British royalty, small-time criminals, Mafia dons, two crack art theft investigators, a corrupt governor, a good ole boy sheriff, a brilliant artist, a small hunchback, and two hapless college students—among others.
A Michelangelo painting, belonging to a Mafia don currently in exile in Sicily, is stolen from an American museum. A brilliant artist is hired to recreate 12 copies, which are to be sold as originals in order to pay the inheritance tax on the ancient English castle of Lord Herbert and Lady Margaret Reynolds. The Reynolds host the artist, Anton Bakeur, and his slow-witted assistants at a lakeside cottage that has been rehabbed to replicate Michelangelo’s studio.
Meanwhile, the governor and incompetent law enforcement officials clamor for the painting’s return. The governor even hires the world’s two leading art theft detectives, who fall in love and seem to lose sight of the mission at hand. The author gives us two locales, Garden City (the museum site) and Clear Lake (the artist’s studio), unfortunately without further geographical reference.
When law enforcement and the Reynolds’ crew collide, an indescribably funny scene results. What could have been mere slapstick is a disciplined, credible, laugh-out-loud moment. The author is a skillful master of dialogue and has created such endearing bad guys, one can’t help but hope the whole gang gets away with their crazy schemes.
The narrative has some flaws: The pacing is somewhat uneven, with occasional jarring transitions between scenes, and there are so many characters that readers may sometimes lose track of who’s who.
These problems are easily overlooked, however. The conclusion is absolutely boffo. And while all is not perfect here, this book is a blast.
Also available as an ebook.