A Deceptive Clarity

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by Aaron Elkins

When the head of the San Francisco County Museum of Art offers curator Chris Norgren an assignment in Berlin preparing for an international exhibition, Chris hardly hesitates to accept.

He’s in the midst of a messy divorce and sliding into depression.

The exhibition, called “Treasures of Four Centuries: The Plundered Past Recovered,” features 20 works by Old Masters. The works were stolen by the Nazis and then recovered with the help of the U.S. Army after World War II ended. The exhibition will travel to six American military bases in Europe with cultural and public relations events at each.

Chris first learns something is awry when his immediate boss, Peter van Cortlandt, tells him that he suspects there is a forgery among the paintings. Something “right up Chris’s alley,” he says coyly, before flying to Frankfurt to negotiate the loan of an El Greco to the exhibit.  Peter refuses to say more, telling Chris that he wants him to have an open mind as he investigates.

Within the week, Peter is dead in compromising circumstances; Chris injured when thugs try to steal crates of paintings in storage in Berlin; and the owner of the paintings, the temperamental Claudio Bolzano, threatens to cancel his loan of the artwork.

As Chris inspects, tests, researches and checks the provenance of the pieces in the exhibition, you’ll get an entertaining sidecar ride through art history, art sales and museum protocols. This story is as entertaining as a thriller with considerably less blood and gore. You have to be thinking inside out and upside down to guess the ending.

A DECEPTIVE CLARITY (1987) is the first in a trio of novels featuring Chris Norgren.  It was followed by A GLANCING LIGHT (1991)The third book in the series, OLD SCORES(1993), won a a 1994 Nero Award for best mystery novel.

About the Author: Aaron Elkins (1935 – )

Brooklyn-born writer Aaron Elkins is best known for his Gideon Oliver mystery series featuring a forensic anthropologist known as the “skeleton detective.”

He wrote his first novel (the first in the Oliver series) when he was 42. The fourth book in the series, OLD BONES, won the 1988 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel and was also nominated for an Anthony award. The seventh Gideon Oliver novel, MAKE NO BONES, was nominated for a 1991 Agatha Award.
His mysteries were adapted into a prime time television series, “Gideon Oliver,” that ran on ABC in 1989.
Elkins and his wife Charlotte, a former art librarian and romance writer, co-wrote a series of golf mysteries about LPGA member Lee Ofsted and another series featuring Alix London, who like Chris Norgren, solves art crimes. The Elkinses shared an Agatha Award (1992) for their short story, “Nice Gorilla.”
Additionally, Aaron Elkins has written four stand-alone novels, including Loot (1999), which deals with art stolen by the Nazis and introduces protagonist Dr. Benjamin Revere.
Elkins earned a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, master of arts degrees from the University of Arizona and California State University, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in education from the University of California, Berkeley.
He and his wife live in Sequim, WA, on the Olympic Peninsula.  They have two children.


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