Jonathan Santlofer’s The Lost Van Gogh is a new novel about a self portrait by Vincent Van Gogh. Written by an author who is also an artist, the book has an action/mystery/spy story feel but also addresses a very real issue in the art world. The book’s plot deals with the long term fallout of Nazi art looting during World War Two and the ongoing struggle to return stolen objects to their rightful owners.
The story involves Luke and Alexis, an artist and art historian couple who find themselves briefly in possession of a long-lost Van Gogh self portrait with a troubling provenance. After the painting is stolen from them, they hire Smith, an art-savvy detective, to help them recover it. Things quickly get complicated, because no one is who they appear to be, and everyone seems to have an agenda for this painting. There’s lots of intrigue, danger, double crosses, shady dealings, and surprise twists. The adventure spans several countries and multiple international crime-fighting organizations. The main characters originally appeared in Santlofer’s earlier novel, The Last Mona Lisa. I haven’t read that first book and can confirm that you can understand The Lost Van Gogh without it, but I suspect the two books are best enjoyed in their proper order.
Overall, The Lost Van Gogh is a fairly average action novel – enjoyable to be sure, but the plot and characters are not particularly standout. However, the story has some good twists and turns, and the art crimes theme will likely appeal to art lovers, especially since it comes from a knowledgeable and informed author. Santofer clearly feels strongly about stolen art repatriation and has obviously done a lot of research on the topic. (That being said, I suspect that repatriation in the real world generally involves a lot more research and a lot less super-spy hijinks than this story suggests.)
The Lost Van Gogh by Jonathan Santlofer will be published by Sourcebooks Landmark on January 2, 2024. (It should not be confused with an older novel of the same name by A. J. Zerries.) Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review the book in advance of the its release. Click here to pre-order the book through Amazon.
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Cover image: Vincent Van Gogh, Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, 1887. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.