Book Review: Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo
Penguin Press, July 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59420-220-9

Stunningly comprehensive, this real-life tale of one of the most elaborate and wide-spread art cons in the history of the world is at the same time a real page turner. It is very easy to turn an examination like this into an in-depth passionless academic examination of the development and actions of a high-level immoral thief and his minions. These authors have not done that. Rather, they have produced a novel-like high-wire examination of the people and those who consciously or inadvertently aided and abetted the talented counterfeiter, and his masterful, flexible Svengali, the consummate con artist, John Drew.

Of course, their weaving, dodging path of destruction through the British art scene in the mid twentieth-century was supported in great measure by the lustful desires for acquisition of great art by relatively unschooled but wealthy “patrons.” Many of these supporters of artistic creators and their art seemed to care more about the public and private recognition they received for their art collections, and supposed taste, than they did for the actual art and artists.

After reading this reportage, one is forced to wonder who now, in the halls of their mansions, look upon their prized, often expensive, framed pictures and wonder if they are real, or are they too, victims of this great con. Because art experts, as reported by these authors in this meticulously researched book, aver that there are demonstrably hundreds of still unrecognized fakes, valued in the multiple thousands of dollars, hanging in homes and museums and offices all over the world. It gives one pause, and it should.

A stunning work everyone interested in the world of making and collecting art should read.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, June 2018.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The 500 by Matthew Quirk

The 500
Matthew Quirk
Reagan Arthur Books, June 2012
ISBN 9780316198622

Jump into the cesspool that is Washington, D.C. Swim with the sharks and their prey and hope you can survive. The debut novel by Matthew Quirk has a man only wanting only to stay on the straight and narrow, to earn his keep through hard work. But corruption in America’s capital is too overwhelming and it’s comes down to a matter of life or death.

He’s a former con man trying to live a respectable life. He’s worked hard to get through Harvard and to pay his mom’s medical bills. After being hired by a powerful consulting firm, the Davies Group, Mike Ford looks forward to the good life full of perks he never imagined. However, within a year he finds himself falling back into habits from his past, and learning new ones. His assignments for the Davies Group have him barely escaping the authorities. Henry Davies, founder of the company wants to control the 500 most influential people in Washington, D.C. However, one man won’t buckle under. Ford, against everyone’s advice, digs into the practices of the Davies Group in order to save his own life and maybe the life of several others’.

With each new book about Washington politics the more the seamier side of life is exposed. This is full of powerful people who only confirm the adage about power corrupting. The action is tense, the knowledge of the ways of Washington is solid, and there’s even some wry humor to keep it interesting. Welcome a new face on the scene in Matthew Quirk and read The 500. No need for unnecessary hype or sensationalism–this, simply, is a good one.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, March 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.