Will Ottinger’s “The Last van Gogh”

Chicago gallery owner Adam Barrow stages a gala event that he hopes will save his venture from financial ruin. He invites wealthy patrons from throughout the city. In stumbles an unwanted guest.

Adam’s drunken brother, Wes, has found two letters, decades old, one from their now dead father and the other, dated November 1941 from an American diplomat in Madrid, also deceased. The diplomat claims to have rescued a lost and previously unknown van Gogh from Nazi art thieves. The father, an alcoholic and notorious fraud, claims to have hidden the painting but never discloses its location. The painting, if genuine, would have a value in the hundreds of millions.

Skeptical, Adam agrees to search for it, with the financial backing of international financier and former British intelligence officer, Phillip Dansby. What ensues is a high-speed treasure hunt across Europe and the U.S. Adam and his beautiful ex-KGB companion must elude Russian mobsters, unscrupulous art dealers and an unseen assassin.

A master of the back story, Ottinger provides glimpses into the last days of van Gogh and the desperate efforts of Allied agents to save priceless works from Hitler and Goering’s looters. Far more than an entertaining tale, this novel draws back the veil and reveals a dark side to the glamourous and fashionable auction houses, where provenance is not always as advertised.

Ottinger’s sequel to The Last van Gogh, Shadows of Leonardo is equally compelling. He is now at work on a third book in this series. His debut novel, A Season for Ravens, set in 1918, follows the exploits of three pilots, two American and one German, who meet in the skies over France.

What sets Ottinger apart from run-of-the-mill suspense novelists is his flawless character development and his clean and economical prose. He draws upon years of experience as an art dealer and historian. His stories move us effortlessly through space and time, putting the reader inside each character in a way that reminds us why we read fiction.