This book follows the adventures of a large cast of characters who are all connected to the art world. There are forgers, dealers, artists, art historians, gallery owners and art thieves. They each have their own story and then the individual stories also clash or overlap. I guess the main thrust of the novel, the thread that brings the cast together, is the search of a lost masterpiece by turn of the century Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.
I have read Ken Follett before, I have read his doorstop medieval epics Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. I enjoyed them both, they had exciting stories and interesting characters and were pacey enough to make getting through 900 or so pages a breeze. This was different; much shorter, a thriller/crime genre not a saga, written and set in the 1970s but the main difference was that is was awful!
When I first started reading it I thought it was OK. Follett introduces us to a selection of utterly unlikeable characters, which I thought in a way was refreshing. I think I have complained in a previous review about characters being too perfect – this lot were the opposite; nasty, spoiled, petulant, lazy, stupid, bitter – a real rubbish bunch. But then the reader was left not rooting for anyone and the storyline was rather weak, it weaved between the threads in a way that made you ask “which one was he again?” and then realising you didn’t care enough to look back to a previous chapter to work out who was doing what. There was the occasional pleasing scene but overall this felt more like a piece of experimental writing Follett might have done as an exercise to hone his craft rather than a finished novel. Particularly bad was the climax to the search for the lost piece of art which, if you do decide to read this novel against my advice, will leave your mouth hanging opening in disbelief (and not in a good way).