Monday, December 24, 2012

Charlotte Elkins and Aaron Elkins write an amusing art-historical mystery.

This novel sounded like it would be amusing, especially since it was set in Santa Fe and concerned Georgia O’Keefe.  I had not encountered this writing couple before, but I will keep a look out from now on.

A Dangerous Talent

Alix London, the heroine of Charlotte Elkins’ and Aaron Elkins’ novel A Dangerous Talent (270 pages, Thomas & Mercer, $14.95) is trying to make her way as an art restorer and advisor to collectors.  She is struggling in her career, largely because she is not well known.  And what people do know about her, they know because of her father.  And that is really no help at all.

Geoff, her well-meaning but utterly frustrating father, has himself just come out of prison for his major role in a huge art forgery ring.  The well-heeled and extraordinarily easy life to which he had introduced his daughter has simply disappeared, and she feels that if she were never to hear from him, it would be too soon.

He has helped her behind the scenes, though, with his long-standing and not so terribly tarnished connections, and in addition he has helped her find a great restoration gig—she is cleaning and restoring the works of a wonderful collector, who has also left the country for a while and allowed Alix to stay in her apartment while she works.  In the middle of this work, she is approached by a different collector who would like to take her on as an advisor to search for art and to help develop her taste.  Alix responds warily; but when this woman, Chris Lemay, proposes a quick trip to Santa Fe in her private jet to look at a Georgia O’Keefe landscape she is hoping to buy, Alix jumps at the chance to leave rainy Seattle for the desert sun.

Things start to go wrong, however, as soon as the pair arrive in Santa Fe.  Alix is scheduled to stay in a casita at the inn where they have reserved.  But no sooner does she enter with her bags, then she smells gas.  And in minutes the whole place has exploded.  Everyone apologizes for the accident, but she senses that there is more to it.

These feelings intensify when the art dealer they have arrived to meet is murdered before they have had much time to do more than say hello to the woman.  This cannot be coincidental, and they are terribly confused about what it all means.

Shuffling around and trying to make sense of it himself, is the handsome and deceptive FBI agent, Ted Ellesworth, who first presents himself as a wealthy Boston collector in town to see some of the same paintings Alix and Chris have come to see.  He is suspicious of the young and attractive Alix, however, because he knows about her father and he cannot imagine that she is not involved in the art scams that he has come to Santa Fe to investigate.

There are many more complications, a few more murders and attempted murders before things start to become clear.  The big issue for Alix, aside from staying alive, is whether or not she can ever forgive her father.  Let’s just say that the novelists make it so that she really has very little choice.

This is an engaging novel, well-paced and carefully plotted, with likable characters and a very satisfying ending.  I will definitely watch for more mysteries by this interesting couple.

Charlotte and Aaron Elkins

A Dangerous Talent is available at Powell's, Vroman's and Amazon.

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