|Maddy Blume is charged with the task of bidding on a valuable painting by the renowned painter Marcel Duchamp. The auction, run by Sotheby’s, promises to be a battle between unseen bidders. Maddy has done her homework and expects that the work can be had for three million dollars. Unfortunately for Maddy, the price steadily rises to more than twice the expected price. Reynard, the man for whom Maddy is bidding, finally bows out as her completion bids eleven million. Against her employer’s wishes Maddy intends to find out the identity of her mystery opponent in this art war.
Alan Powell is a British criminal investigator who catches the case of a young woman discovered on Brighton Beach who had been brutally murdered. Her body had been cut up into numerous pieces. The incident had taken place some time ago and her body had partially mummified. Powell must first identify the victim, not an easy task considering the time lag between discovery of the body and when the murder had occurred. The major identifying part of the victim’s body appear to be her feet which indicate that she was a dancer.
The third component of the story is a Russian named Sharkovsky, a prominent figure in the Russian mafia. His connections to the art world are well known for art is a valuable commodity in international monetary exchanges.
Though the plot provides no real surprises it does give a glimpse of how the art world figures into the international monetary exchange game and how the prices of paintings of living artists vary from those who are dead. Side excursions within the main story deal with secret societies and the occult, both popular themes in current mystery writers’ arsenal. The influence of art on the occult and the reverse.
The Icon Thief is Alec Nevala-Lee’s first novel which shows promise. Although he succumbs to the temptation to have his characters discover useful bits of information through serendipity, he manages to set things up flawlessly in other situations indicating moments of more careful planning. A good example of the latter is a scene in which Maddy returns to her home and suspects that something has been moved on her desk. As she had taken a picture of her desk previously to document something, she was able to ascertain what that difference was. The author is equally fastidious in discussing points of law that have bearing on the story.
The strongest parts of The Icon Thief are the information about the art world and how it relates to the international money game, and the influences of art on the occult and secret societies and the influence of secret societies and the occult on art. As the author carefully points out, art is a much different commodity than rare minerals; for example because it incorporates an emotional component that is unpredictable. How the emotional aspect plays out forms a major part of this novel.
Readers who enjoy art and international finance will find this debut thriller an exciting read. Though the author takes some time to establish connections between various aspects of the plot, the action moves at an adequate pace to hold one’s attention. The knowledge obtained about art in the international market leaves readers with the feeling that they have enjoyed a more substantial gift than a pleasant diversion on a long plane ride.