Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Theft of the Master

Hitler’s well-documented determination to loot Europe of its most priceless art has sparked the imaginations of writers worldwide, resulting in many a thriller in book or movie format. Amazingly enough, some of the lost art objects still surface occasionally in places to which they were carried by those who in turn managed to loot Hitler’s stolen collection near the end of World War II. Edwin Alexander’s debut novel, Theft of the Master, in which just such a piece surfaces in 1992, is a worthy addition to the genre.

The piece in question, a 1493 wood carving depicting a seated Christ delivering the Sermon on the Mount, was only one of many priceless art objects smuggled into Paraguay by one of Hitler’s despicable minions when those “officers” scattered around the world to hide in holes like the rats they were. But even rats live long enough to die of old age occasionally and, when this one did just that, the priceless art was suddenly up for grabs again.

Importantly, in this instance, the missing seated-Christ sculpture has as much historical significance to the country from which it was originally stolen, Estonia, as it has monetary value to those hoping to cash in on Hitler’s failure to survive the war. Alexander begins his story with the creation of the seated-Christ and describes in detail the atrocities committed by Hitler’s thugs when they took possession of it. Then it disappears for nearly half a century.

Theft of the Master at times reads like two separate books because much of the story takes place on the California coast near San Francisco and involves a wealthy British family suddenly in need of the services of a private detective. They find one in the person of Al Hersey, a lethal ex-Marine and self-employed private investigator who is willing to go wherever, and speak with whoever might have answers to the questions his clients are asking. Slowly but surely, as the persistent Mr. Hersey pursues his investigation through California, Estonia, Paraguay, Sweden, and New York, it becomes obvious that the answers about what happened to his clients in 1992 go back much farther than anyone suspected.

Edwin Alexander’s complicated plot is filled with memorably unique characters that are, at times, more fun than the plot itself but, by the end of Al Hersey’s around-the-world adventures, the reader realizes what a trip it was and how masterful a job Alexander has done in tying all the loose ends together. Al Hersey and his stay-at-home wife, upon whom he depends to handle all the logistics of his investigation, make quite a team and here’s hoping that Theft of the Master is only the first of his adventures of which we will be reading.

This one is quite a ride, so pay attention.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Another one for my list.

    I did get and start Walking Across Egypt, but it didn't draw me in. I usually enjoy books written by and/or set in the south but this missed the mark with me.

  2. Sorry to hear that, Elizabeth...you might enjoy the audio version more but if the general premise of the book did nothing for you it's probably not worth the effort.

  3. Hi Sam,

    I read this one this month as well - and liked it (rated it 3.5/5) and review it on my blog. Glad to see you enjoyed this novel :)


  4. Interesting. I can find it listed on Amazon but not at my library or at my Canadian bookstore.
    I'll keep it on my list and check again as it does sound like something I'd like.

  5. It's very recently published, Elizabeth, so don't give up on finding it. The author is British, so I'm betting that it will be easy to find in Canada at some point.

  6. I enjoyed reading your review, Wendy...thanks for the link.