Stories arising from art the real deal or faked, loaned, stolen, deployed as collateral fascinate me. Think Daniel Silva s 2014 The Heist and his earlier Gabriel Allon thrillers, and series by Iain Pears, Aaron Elkins, and Nicholas Kilmer. Maybe it s the juxtaposition of cultural heritage vs. criminal activity. Michael Bowen s Collar Robber asks some tricky questions relating to a valuable painting in the collection of a Pittsburgh museum. How can you make money from a painting that you don't own, can't steal, and couldn't fence even if you succeeded? What if you convince people you already had stolen it? Is it a fake? And, as the story rolls along, what is the painting s real provenance, a question that ties into the whole sorry story of European art and the Nazis? The mystery also revolves around identities, professional and personal. Collar Robber reunites two characters, Pittsburgh lawyer Cynthia Jakubek from But Remember Their Names and insurance Loss Prevention Specialist Jay Davidovich from Jail Coach. Here s Booklist on both: "Cyn, with her family, fiance, boss, clients, and colleagues, is so likeable readers will consider her an imaginary friend." "Locke, a pseudonymous lawyer...spins a slick, fast-moving tale with a protagonist whose occasional snappy rejoinders and physical prowess are reminiscent of Robert B. Parker s Spenser. Readers will look forward to seeing more of Davidovich; he s a keeper. In play are the museum, the Catholic Church, a deep pockets insurance corporation with muscle actual and figurative, and actors in the unfolding drama who are Catholic, Islamic, and Jewish as well as of various nationalities as would be the case surrounding such a painting."
The Collar Robber: A Crime Story Featuring Jay Davidovich and Cynthia Jakubek by Hillary Bell Locke is a difficult book to begin. First, it is the second in a series and I would recommend that you read the first one in order to orient yourself with the characters. Even if I had done that, though, I fear that I would still have experienced a great deal of confusion reading this mystery.
My first issue is the use of two narrators, each telling alternating chapters. It was difficult to follow who “I” was since the characters did not give enough clues to their identities making their voices distinct. I had to keep flipping to the beginning of the chapter to refresh my memory.
In addition, the first page contains a plot “infodump” that takes a while to figure out. Jay Davidovich is a loss prevention specialist who works for Transoxana Insurance Company. He is tasked with preventing fraud resulting from a painting that may or may not be authentic. Cynthia Jakubek as a lawyer involved in the recovery of the painting. Within the first fifteen pages of the book, the reader is tasked with deciphering at least 10 characters with few distinguishing characteristics, as well as understanding the convoluted art plot.
I felt off balance and confused for much of the novel. This confusion made all of the unfolding plot points a chore to get through, rather than a pleasure to read. It is a shame—I was in the mood for a great mystery. While all the connections and characters must have been clear in the author’s mind, they did not translate into a coherent book for me.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina