It’s a Mystery: The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova

The Swan ThievesArtists and lovers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“The Swan Thieves” is a story about love, art, and obsession. Dr. Andrew Marlow, an amateur painter himself, takes on the case of Robert Oliver, nearly famous artist, who attempts to slash a painting at Washington’s National Gallery. Robert is deliberately uncommunicative, and Marlow breaks his code of ethics by delving deep into Robert’s personal life on his own. Why did he try to destroy that painting? Who is the beautiful young woman whom he paints countless times, always in Victorian garb? As Marlow interviews Robert’s former wife and recent lover, he begins to uncover the answers. Traveling in the states, in France, and in Mexico, he finds the pieces of the puzzle one at a time.

The Swan Thieves is a novel with too many pages (0ver 500). The use of multiple voices in the telling of the tale helps prevent monotony, but it would be a much better novel if it were more concise. Part mystery, part romance, and part art history, there are many compelling passages, but these are separated by way too much repetitive detail. Read this book for the story, but approach with patience! Three stars.

In spite of the use of multiple points of view, we hear the same reportorial voice in every one of them coming dutifully across the page in predictable prose—conned phrases, gorgeous clichés. It all makes one long for Stendhal, though not his syndrome.

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