The Gallerist, Michael Levitt
Author of THE GALLERIST, Michael Levitt, is a surgeon and health bureaucrat with a considerable list of scientific articles, medical books targeted at the general public and chapters in medical textbooks to his name. He's also an art collector, and has written numerous articles about art and artwork for a range of publications. This is his first work of fiction.
The fictional Mark Lewis is an art lover and former surgeon, now running a small art gallery after the death of his much loved wife Sharon left him lost and grieving deeply. His investigative interest is tweaked when a local woman arrives in the gallery one day with a painting that was a gift to her dead sister, signed and supposedly painted by a seventeen-year-old boy named Charlie. So why does this work look so much like a known work by the famous James Devlin?
Needless to say, the author has undertaken a "write what you know" endeavour in THE GALLERIST. It's obvious that he knows a lot about collection, collectors and the art world in general. A world that has always seemed to this reader to be somewhat secretive, made up of cliques and people who seem to wield enormous power over a lot of money. Obviously not helped when you hear stories about private collections made up of pieces with very dodgy provenances. (Interestingly I'd just finished Barry Maitland's novel The Russian Wife which is set in the same world of art collection).
The mystery element in THE GALLERIST revolves around the identity of "Charlie". A young boy from within the disability community, he's not easy to track down. Lewis is trying because something about those similarities between his painting and the work of the famous, and very pricey, Devlin won't let him rest. Along the way he meets a new romantic interest, travels to Melbourne, and realises that he could potentially be outing the famous James Devlin as some sort of a fraud. Or not, depending upon what could also be a very reasonable explanation.
It's an interesting idea, and one that, despite the Maitland coincidence, is an unusual take for a crime fiction novel. There's obviously a great depth of knowledge of art collection, authentication and the whole world of valuing, selling and marketing behind this novel. Maybe a little too much as there were times where it dragged interminably, perhaps because of the slightly detached writing style, which read more like an instructive text in places, than a thriller designed to pull the reader into the minds of the protagonists.
It also wasn't too tricky to figure out the mystery at the heart of the story, so the why felt more important to this reader than the who or the how. It's not fully revealed until the end, but even the twist here wasn't, well, utterly unexpected. Perhaps it came down to the lack of emotional connection that I ended up with but the choice of paths didn't feel altogether convincing.
Definitely a novel in two parts, if you're struggling a little with the first half, and of a mind to learn something about the art world in general, stick with it. Once you get into the second half, where the history of James Devlin and how it all fits together starts to be explored more you could find that worthwhile in its own right.
Mark Lewis, a former surgeon, has found solace in running a small art gallery. When Jan, a local woman, brings him a painting for valuing, it looks uncannily like a painting by the enigmatic artist James Devlin. Yet Jan claims it was done by a seventeen-year-old boy called Charlie.
As Mark searches for the painting's true provenance, he is joined by the attractive and clever Linda de Vries. But the pair will learn that James Devlin is a man whose past is as blank as an empty canvas, and he is determined to keep it that way.