Monday, September 22, 2008

A couple of art musuem sleuths

Lucas and Kari, both fourteen years old, are very best friends. They met at an art class, Kari astounded by Lucas's ability to render what she saw onto the page in incredible detail, and Lucas impressed by Kari's skill at creative interpretation of the subject in question. Lucas has a photographic memory, and Kari possesses a creativity that Lucas just doesn't quite have.

The two friends complement each other in other ways, as well, so that when they stumble across a puzzling event at an art museum, they turn out to be the perfect team in pursuing and solving the mystery. Who is the nasty man they saw in the Minneapolis art gallery, and again in the National Gallery of London, copying a Rembrandt painting - and why is he wearing a disguise? Why is he so careful that no one can catch a glimpse of the canvas he is working on? If it weren't for Lucas's photographic memory, the two girls might never have noticed.

Their travels with Kari's mother, a fashion journalist, take them around Europe, and the more they delve into the mystery, the more their safety is at stake. But how can they give up when they seem so close to discovering the truth?

There were many things about this book that I loved: the girls' friendship, which at times ran down a bumpy road; their relationships with their families; the character of Kari's mother, who is portrayed (as is much more common in children's fiction these days, happily) as a real, three-dimensional person, not just a shadowy authority figure in the background to be trotted out as the plot necessitates); the consequences of the girls' behavior; and the whole art history theme. The plot did contain enough coincidences to strain the suspension of my disbelief, and it was completely unrealistic that a newly discovered painting by an art master would only be authenticated by one "expert" in the field - but still, the novel was highly enjoyable, a fun romp through the art world from the point of view of two intelligent, likable teenagers.

My library shelves this book in the children's fiction area, but I do believe it would appeal to younger teens as well. There are some allusions to prostitution (that famous quarter in Amsterdam) and sexual abuse, but it is more a subtext that only readers in the know would understand. I love art history mysteries, and this is a fun addition to that growing genre.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt (Viking Juvenile, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Knights Read Books
Reading with My Ears
Thumbs Up 2009


  1. You know, I don't think I'd heard the term "art history mysteries" before...but I like art history and I like mystery, so it sounds like a winning combination to me! Do you have one you'd particularly recommend?

    I know what you mean about too many coincidences making one's suspension of disbelief difficult to maintain. But this does sound like an enjoyable book regardless.

  2. All "history mysteries" are good if told well lol! Glad you enjoyed this, it sounds like a good story.

  3. Nymeth - sounds like you'd enjoy the "art history mystery" genre! I particularly like The Caravaggio Obsession by Oliver Banks and the ones by Aaron Elkins (he's the one who does the forensic "skeleton detective" mysteries too) - the first one in his art series is called A Deceptive Clarity (there are three so far). For kids there's Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet, which is a lot of fun, too, and the two follow-ups in that series.

    Ladytink - you are right! I'm up for just about anything if the telling is good. :-)


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