Thursday, August 14, 2014

Loot: Aaron Elkins

Extract from summary at Goodreads:
April 1945: In the last convulsive days of World War II a convoy of Nazi trucks loaded with Europe's greatest art treasures winds its way through the Alps toward a cavernous Austrian salt mine. With the Allies closing in and chaos erupting, a single truck silently disappears into a mountain snowstorm with its cargo of stolen masterpieces.
Fifty years later, in a seedy Boston pawnshop, one of the truck's paintings surfaces at last, pawned for $100 by a smalltime Russian thug. The next day, the shop owner, Simeon Pawlovsky, himself a Nazi death camp survivor, is dead, the life brutally beaten out of him. The painting is gone.
Once he examined the painting, Simeon suspected that it was a masterpiece, and called in art historian Benjamin Revere for advice on how to proceed. After Simeon's death, Ben ends up on an international hunt for the rightful owner of the painting and along the way runs into the Russian mafia. He is just a regular guy who knows a lot about art and especially the plundering of art during World War II. He isn't a hero but he doesn't give up easily, and he has a conscience. He feels responsible for Simeon's death, and feels he must do what he can to find out who murdered him.

I am currently reading Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel.  (And previously had watched the movie by the same name and the documentary The Rape of Europa.) So this topic is very much in my mind right now. I have had this book for about eight years and this was the perfect time for me to finally read it.

It is a shame I waited this long to read the book because it was highly entertaining. The characterization is great; Ben is sharply drawn, and this is also true of many of the lesser characters. There is a romantic interest, and that is well done. The story is told in an entertaining way with just the right amount of humor. The eventual resolution is not obvious at all.

In the acknowledgments, Aaron Elkins thanks Lane Faison, "a young lieutenant in the three-man OSS Art Looting Investigation Team" for answering questions about the German looting of art objects. Although Faison does not feature heavily in Monuments Men, the author of that book tells a moving story about inteviewing Faison at the age of 98 in the Author's Note.

Yvette, at In So Many Words, is a big fan of Aaron Elkins, and especially this book. She goes into a lot of detail about the book and its background here.

Aaron Elkins has written other series, and I have read a few of the ones about forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver. The current covers of the books for this series all feature skeletons, so I have copies of almost all of the books, and will read more eventually. My son has read more of those books than I have, and enjoyed them a lot.

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Publisher:   Avon, 1999.
Length:       376 pages
Format:       paperback
Setting:       Boston, Massachusetts; St. Petersburg, Russia; Budapest, Hungary
Genre:         Mystery, art history

17 comments:

  1. I have yet to read anythign by Elkins (though I remember the brief TV version of the Oliver books starring Louis Gossett Jr but I think they changed it a lot) - thanks TracyK.

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    1. I remember articles about that series in mystery magazines when it came out, but I don't think we watched TV then. Which is why we missed the later Columbo episodes, which came out at the same time. I think the series with Louis Gossett Jr. was quite different, as you say, but I probably would have liked them anyway. I had not read the books back then. I read the first two sometime in the last ten years.

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  2. Oh, Tracy, I'm so glad you liked this one!! I think it's a terrific standalone with some fine characters. In fact I'd like to see Revere in another novel (a-, Mr. Elkins!). And I can vouch for the fact that Elkins is a fine person as well as a talented author.

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    1. Margot I met Aaron Elkins at Bouchercon in Las Vegas years ago. He is such a pleasant man and he reminded me of the absent minded professor we always hear about. :) I brought along my copy of LOOT for him to sign and I gushed (of course) about how much I loved it. He seemed very pleased that I'd read it more than once.

      He also took the time later to comment on one of my LOOT posts. A nice guy.

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    2. Just from his website, both Aaron Elkins and his wife seem like very nice people. Glad to hear that this is true.

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  3. I've not tried this author, if I ever do, I'll probably go for the Edgar winner OLD BONES. And after re-assessing the mountain even 1 from him would be a stretch

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    1. Col, I am sure that OLD BONES would be a good choice. Elkins' books may be too tame for you, but I like the idea of the different settings and his background is in forensic anthropology.

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  4. Well, thank you for writing about one of my all time favorites. And thanks for the plug. I take every opportunity I can to spread the joy of LOOT. :) I've read it several times and will probably read it several times more. My favorite scene is always the one in the Hungarian hotel. SO dry, so witty, so funny. Though I've read all the Gideon Oliver books and enjoyed most of them, it's LOOT that I remember and love most.

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    1. Yvette, I am glad I finally listened to your recommendations and read Loot, and I can definitely see myself re-reading it so I am holding on to my copy.

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  5. Tracy, I liked the story as it is an offshoot of WWII, which is often as interesting to read about as what happened during the war, and given the recommendation from you and Yvette, I'll be reading this book.

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    1. I do think you would enjoy this book, Prashant. Good characters, adventure, and quiet humor.

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  6. Good discussion. I first wanted to read Loot after reading Yvette's rave about it. But my library does not have a copy. That system removes older books and they go into the Bermuda Triangle. Or it keeps one copy up at the main library uncirculating. One has to go up there to read it!

    So, I guess with this review and comments, I have to find a copy. Humor and a good protagonist are compelling reasons to read it, as well as the fact that it's been reread by avid readers.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I do think you would like this book. And, as I noted, I read it at the perfect time for me, while I have been learning more about the looting of art treasures.

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  7. Very interesting- I have read a couple of Elkins' series books, but not this one. I very much liked Aylet Waldman's Love and Treasure, which it seems has a similar background, so my interest in the area has been kindled.

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    1. Moira, very shortly after I read this book, I purchased Love and Treasure (hardback, only edition available here now, except for kindle which I am not paying that price for). Based on your review and Ms. Wordopolis, I was already intending to read it, but now I can't wait. I just have to figure out how to fit it in.

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  8. Yep, I've always wanted to read Elkins, too, and this book will go on my tbr wishlist.

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  9. Keishon, I hope you find a copy someday. This is a good place to start with Elkins books, not that I have read that many.

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