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by Jonathan Santlofer
Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2024
352 pages
ISBN: 1728260175

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is a particularly informative story of the effort to repatriate art stolen from Jewish art patrons by the Nazis. The history of the efforts to keep art from the Nazis hands to begin with and then to provide restitution to the descendants of the artworks' original owners, as well as the history of Van Gogh's life and especially his death, serve as the background to this mystery. The book covers many time periods, moving back and forth between the final days of the Nazi regime, Van Gogh's final days, and the present when a painting that disappeared from his funeral may have been discovered. As the reader follows the path of the painting, much is learned about how paintings' provenances are determined, art restoration, the illegal trade of stolen art, and Van Gogh's life and death.

It all starts with a young art student, Alexis Verde, who buys a mundane painting from an antique barn. She brings it home to her boyfriend, Luke Perrone, an art professor, artist, and restorer. As they handle it, they notice the paint is peeling and something seems to be behind it. That something appears to be a Van Gogh painting. The next day, while attempting to bring the painting to an art auction house, she is attacked and the painting stolen. At this point, the action takes off at a fast clip, moving to Amsterdam and France, Van Gogh's territory, and involving art thieves, gallery owners, Interpol, and a great deal of deception and intrigue.

The plot moves so quickly that holes appear and the reader questions the likelihood of some of the actions. However, it is not so much the plot as the background history that captivates. Santlofer is an artist and art historian in his own right, and he is clearly very knowledgeable. Reading this novel, which incorporates so much art history, is a highly palatable means to learn about Nazi art theft and repatriation efforts as well as aspects of Van Gogh's final days. It explores an alternate theory of the artist's death to the generally accepted suicide.

Santlofer's previous book, THE LAST MONA LISA, involves the same characters, Luke and Alexis and, of course, art history. It suddenly becomes more tantalizing after having read THE LOST VAN GOGH and discovered a writer who can imbue a thriller with so much information without becoming didactic.

Sharon Mensing, retired educational leader, lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors in Arizona.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, January 2024

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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