Pros: Fascinating mystery and exploration of history; riveting characters
Cons: One identity is a bit obvious; odd start
Rating: 4 out of 5
At the end of World War II, the Nazis stole many artifacts and priceless pieces of art, many of which were never found again. Among these was a priceless wooden statue of a seated Christ from an Estonian church. The icon resurfaces upon the death of a Nazi in Paraguay, and is passed on to a thinly-disguised group of Neo-Nazis in Germany, only to disappear again shortly thereafter.
In Half Moon Bay, California, a young woman dies on the beach at night. The medical examiner rules the death accidental, but her father won’t let go and hires a private investigator. It doesn’t take long to figure out that her death was anything but accidental, and that the investigator has stumbled into something much larger than anyone could have anticipated. Soon he’s traveling all over the world, chasing a mysterious message left on the body of a dead man.
The beginning of Edwin Alexander’s Theft of the Master is a bit odd. The author starts off with several ‘background’ sections that, for a while, lead me to believe that one or another person was a main character in the book, only to have them disappear entirely shortly thereafter. I found this a little jarring and unsettling. However, once the book settles into the investigation, following PI Al (Albrecht) Hershey and his employers, everything settled into place and hummed along beautifully.
While the concept of a mystery involving a religious artifact might tempt comparisons to The Da Vinci Code and its dozens of follow-ons, this would hardly be accurate. Rather than a tale of secret societies, this is a tale of modern men, greed, theft, love, family, strategy, and manipulation. Edwin Alexander deftly brings Europe and her inhabitants and rituals alive, populating his pages with fascinating characters. Even those who only appear for a few pages leave an indelible impression on the reader’s mind. Of particular note is Al’s wife, Mrs. Hershey, who never actually appears on stage and yet manages to feel like a constant and whole presence through Al’s fond thoughts of her.
The mystery itself is a meticulously laid-out chess game, and even though it’s quite easy to figure out the identity of a certain mystery man, following the mystery’s puzzle pieces as they fit together is still quite fascinating. The fact that the scene-setting is done so skillfully is just the icing on the cake.
This is an absolutely fascinating novel, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.