Mystery Books for Sale

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by Thomas Van Essen
Other Press, June 2013
384 pages
ISBN: 1590515498

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alternating between the time of the painting's creation in 19th century Britain and present-day New England, THE CENTER OF THE WORLD tells a tale of mystery surrounding a lost work of art. The painting (whose title is the same as the name of the book) was painted for a special patron of JMW Turner, Lord Egremont, and captures in oils the historical narrative of Helen of Troy.

Unlike other Turner works (landscapes with a play on light), this portrait is not only an erotic telling of Helen's beauty and the historical consequences that resulted from it, but also a very personal vision of the lord's mistress. How the painting changes hands over the years is part of the mystery lurking behind the saga woven here.

Enter the present day and a middle-aged family man named Henry Leiden, who unexpectedly discovers the lost Turner while at his summer home in the Adirondacks. Leiden is torn between what the valuable work of art could mean for his life if he sells it for even a fraction of the millions it is surely worth and his undeniable desire to keep the painting for himself, so entranced is he by the art.

Still, there's another party who suspects the existence of the painting and will go to any lengths to find it and make it his own. How these three tales come together to chronicle the history of the painting and its key players is the centerpiece of this book.

While unusual in its mystery component, there is some cloak and dagger here, as the gallery owner who desires the painting (but cannot be sure it even exists) takes every measure (many illegal) to track the painting down. For art lovers, the story laid out in these pages is every bit as intriguing as the insight into the life of Turner and artists and models of his day.

Christine Zibas is a freelance writer and former director of publications for a Chicago nonprofit.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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