On the eve of World War II, David Halifax, a young American painter, receives a scholarship to come to Paris and work under the tutelage of the mysterious Russian artist Alexander Pankratov. But as Nazi forces encroach, Halifax realizes the true purpose of his visit: to forge masterworks of the Paris museums, and with the aid of a wily art trader, barter the fakes to Hitler’s legion of art dealers. What develops is a riveting cat-and-mouse game that moves through Paris’s silent streets, through the tunnels beneath its museums, and eventually into the war-torn countryside of Normandy.
Book Review: ★★★★★★
This is a book that just didn’t seem to go anywhere! I kept reading, and reading and thinking that eventually something would happen, but it never really did. A young American wins a scholarship from a mysterious source, which pays his way to Paris, grants him a stipend, and allows him to study under the extremely volatile Russian — Pankratov. Set during World War II, this story sets out to present an attempt to save the art of Paris from the German invading army. The story is a great premise — it just didn’t move anywhere. It was hard to get past the beginning.
There were also some very interesting side stories that were introduced throughout the plot that I found intriguing, but the resolution to these sub-plots seemed incomplete, or worse yet bizarre in the extreme. I never did figure out why they chose to pick this American — Halifax. The reason presented in the book was done in such a way that I felt like it was almost completely brushed over.
I did find that Mr. Watkins has a real gift for description, and vivid imagery. He really does very well at creating a mood and feel for a place — so much so that the reader feels as if they have stepped out of this world, and into the streets of World War II Paris. And yet this ability is not overbearing in the book. It is subtle, and creates an overall mood, or feel in the story. Had the story line been a little stronger, this combination would have been powerful.
I also found that Mr. Watkins is excellent at character development. Pankratov is a mystery beginning to end. And Mr. Watkins has proven himself very gifted at giving the reader just enough, but still keep them wanting more. The characters are eccentric, and obviously have histories of their own — and they provide a great counterpoint to the story.
Generally, I found my response to the book mixed, and I felt that there could have been more in the plot — but there is a great basis for reading in the characters, and the feel, or tone of the book. Perhaps if I was an art lover, I might have had a better appreciation for the story.
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