Art world and underworld collide in The Icon Thief

The_Icon_ThiefWhen we read during the summer, we often are looking to have some fun. We ask friends to recommend a fast read or something light or we skim titles on reading lists called “Summer Reads,”  “Books for the Beach,” or “Perfect Summer Vacation Reading.” Whatever they’re called, we know what they are: books you can’t put down.

Oak Park resident Alec Nevala-Lee delivers all we expect from a summer read and more with his first novel, The Icon Thief. From the first chapters I kept saying to myself, I can’t believe this is a first novel. Nevala-Lee guides his characters with a confident hand into an intriguing high-stakes New York art auction at Sotheby’s and, with equal assuredness, delivers them to the treacherous doorstep of a Russian gangster haunt in Brighton Beach. These plus other story lines quickly merge in a fast-paced thriller that’s the perfect summer escape.

There’s more to The Icon Thief, however, than just a roller coaster ride. The plot centers on an unusual artwork by Marcel Duchamp, an object that exists in real life. You don’t have to know or care a thing about the history of modern art to enjoy this story. If you are interested in the Dadaists, Surrealism and conceptual art, this novel will introduce you to a fascinating piece of art and give you the pleasure of a reading a novel in which names like Andre Breton, Jasper Johns, Tzara, Man Ray, Millet and others appear.

When I read stories that mix fiction with history, I often want to learn more about the subject or determine what the author made up and what was historically accurate. This book was no exception but, fortunately, I didn’t have to dig much to satisfy my curiosity. A wealth of background on the Duchamp piece and on the writing of the novel is posted on the author’s blog. This supplementary material serves as a companion piece to the novel, extending the enjoyable interplay between fiction and reality. It was here I happily discovered this will become a series. The sequel is due out in December and the third volume in summer 2013. They are, of course, on my winter and summer reading lists.


(Disclosure: the publisher provided me with a review copy of this book.)
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