‘A Long Time Coming,’ by Aaron Elkins

I was weary of the string of brainless mystery/thrillers I’d been reading, so I looked for a change of pace. A novel by Aaron Elkins showed up on an Amazon list. I have no idea where or when I conceived an opinion on Aaron Elkins, but I had an idea he wrote intelligent mysteries. I was not wrong.

In A Long Time Coming, we meet Val Caruso, an assistant curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Val is preparing for a trip to Milan, to do prep work for a touring exhibit. He gets a call from his friend Esther, who works with a foundation devoted to returning art stolen by the Nazis to its original owners. The case she wants help with now is one they lost. Italian courts have a high view of the rights of good-faith purchasers, and so old Sol Bezzecca has lost his claim to a pair of early Renoir paintings that once hung in his great-grandfather’s home. But the current owner of the paintings is a friend of Val’s. Would it be possible to persuade him to lend the old man one of them, just until he dies, which can’t be long now?

Val agrees to try. He’s helped the foundation out before. In Milan he approaches his friend, art dealer Ulisse Agnello, and proposes the deal. Ulisse says he’s inclined to agree, but there are “complications.”

The complications involve a high-class loan shark and a slightly dubious art restorer. Eventually there will be murder, and Val’s knowledge of Impressionist art will enable him to untangle a devious, ruthless scheme and make an old man happy.

I enjoyed A Long Time Coming quite a lot. The details about the art world and Milanese culture were interesting. The characters were plausible and quirky. The writing was very good, sometimes moving. And it was a great relief to finally read a book where the detective has the sense to listen to his doctors and stay in bed after sustaining a concussion.

I recommend A Long Time Coming. There may have been some bad language, but it left no impression on me.

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