|Aaron Elkins: Loot|
Morrow Publisher (hardback):
CB editor: "I have Loot for you."
CB reviewer: "Loot? You mean you bought me something? What kind of loot? And what's the occasion, and when did you have time to go shopping, anyway? I thought we had an issue to get out, and -- "
CB editor [patiently]: "Loot, the new Aaron Elkins. Look, if you don't want to review it -- "
[Sound of book being snatched from editor's hands]
The best thing about reading Aaron Elkins is you know he won't do anything really awful to you. OK, he'll keep you up all night biting your fingernails, he'll drive you crazy trying to solve a fiendish puzzle, and you'll probably give in to the temptation to dazzle your friends with your new-found expertise in international art crime. But he'll never bore you.
So don't worry when you discover that Loot doesn't feature Gideon Oliver, Elkins's most popular protagonist. This Benjamin Revere kid may be a newcomer, but he's an Elkins kind of guy: an intellectual reluctantly turning sleuth, able to think his way out of situations that defeat more trigger-happy heroes.
And when Revere's art history training lets him identify the Velazquez painting stolen from a Boston pawn shop as part of a legendary lost hoard of stolen Nazi treasure, don't panic. You know Elkins won't feed you any post-Nazi clichés. No geriatric Gestapo humming the Horst Wessel song in their wheelchairs while sending legions of blonde Aryan clones Ludlumbering out to conquer Europe.
Although if you're planning a trip to the former Soviet Bloc, do not read this book first. Elkins paints far too chilling a picture of the emerging organized crime scene, not to mention the rigors of Eastern European travel. (Note to the Hungarian Tourist Bureau: do not hire this man to write your marketing brochures.)
Alas, Elkins is undoubtedly responsible for many dreadful mystery novels -- written by other people, of course. Elkins makes it look so effortless that I know he inspires a host of hapless imitators. But few can match the ease with which Elkins draws readers into his plot, or the engaging combination of authority and wry, self-deprecating humor he brings to his narrator's voice.
Elkins manages to portray Revere's rather aimless and idle life at the book's beginning without making us hate his protagonist. Revere's gradual transformation from self-absorbed slacker to man of action rings equally true.
And Loot is a classic example of how a writer can deal gracefully with a subject most readers know little about -- restoring art looted in World War II to its rightful owners. If you've ever struggled through a book whose author tried to stuff large, unwieldy chunks of erudition down your throat like a first year veterinary student learning to pill cats, you'll appreciate Elkins's seamless melding of background and story.
In fact, my final verdict on Loot is that I think I'll mosey over to Amazon.com and do a search on Elkins. I usually grab his books as soon as they're out, but I've been so busy over the last year or so -- maybe one slipped by unread. Here's hoping, anyway.
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