Bets and Scams: A Novel of the Art World

Overview

Altstad is a 29-year old art historian from a Dutch Jewish family which was nearly wiped out by the Nazis. Leaving academic life uneasily behind him after earning a PhD in New York, he has high ambitions that by the age of 30 he will have succeeded both in love and as an international dealer in old masters. He is confident of success until, with the deadline just weeks away, his girlfriend questions the quality of their relationship and his accountant the solvency of his business. Piling risk upon risk, Altstad ...
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Overview

Altstad is a 29-year old art historian from a Dutch Jewish family which was nearly wiped out by the Nazis. Leaving academic life uneasily behind him after earning a PhD in New York, he has high ambitions that by the age of 30 he will have succeeded both in love and as an international dealer in old masters. He is confident of success until, with the deadline just weeks away, his girlfriend questions the quality of their relationship and his accountant the solvency of his business. Piling risk upon risk, Altstad puts the one valuable heirloom in his family - Emanuel De Witte's painting of a Portuguese synagogue - into play in a plunging market. Altstad's best customer is the Beverly Hills project developer, Mitchell Fleishig. Fleishig idolizes Dutch painting, regarding it as mankind's supreme accomplishment in manipulating reality. Unable to cope with the economic downturn of the 1990s, he overextends himself by lying to the bank and to a moneylending shark who has connections with the Mafia. When both the bank and the mob clamp down on him, he turns to the only source where his credit for money is still good, Altstad, with life-threatening results. Altstad's bet is pitted against Fleishig's scam in a novel of the art world in the 1990's and of two men unable to face defeat.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of the worthy Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings stumbles during his first run at fiction. Schwartz's history is all right, as is his detailing of the arcane ways of art dealers, advisors, auction houses and museums-but that doesn't mean much for the arcane processes of literature. Lodewijk Alstad is a young art advisor specializing in the lesser-known work of the 17th-century Utrecht Caravaggisti. Under his guidance, his best client, Mitchell Fleishig, has been collecting from this school; but when both Fleishig's bank and his loan shark start pulling in their loans, Fleishig discovers that art isn't always easy to liquidate. Desperate to pay off his more threatening creditors, he launches a scam involving the sale of Alstad's Emmanuel de Witte painting, which soon he, Alstad and the Mafia are all chasing down. There's also a love interest, as well as lengthy disquisitions on the Anasazi, the value of a graduate degree and the Battle of Nieuwpoort that show off Schwartz's intellectual interests but fray the narrative fabric. Added to that are a cast of unfortunate stereotypes (the Italian Mafiosi, the mystical alcoholic Indian), awkward dialogue and some murky prose. Other art insiders, notably Iain Pears and Anthony Oliver, have toggled between serious art writing and crime writing with some success. Schwartz has not. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel from the Brooklyn-born Schwartz, based in the Netherlands since 1965, that may lead some to think that art historians should stick to art and leave the suspense to more accomplished storytellers.

Schwartz (Rembrandt, 1992) is nevertheless an expert both on the Netherlands and the Dutch art scene, with at least a passing familiarity with the New York gallery world, and his hero here is Lodewijk Alstad, a 29-year-old art-historian-cum-dealer hustling his way either to runaway success or utter failure. Lodewijk's fate depends on a series of sales of old- master works, and to bring about that end he has betrayed his mentor, deceived an art journal, and gotten himself embroiled in the dicey affairs of Mitchell Fleishig, a Beverly Hills real-estate magnate whose fortunes are plunging and whose future is mortgaged to the Mob. On top of all this, Lodewijk is having girlfriend troubles and suffering from periodic bouts of anxiety seemingly linked to his family's long-ago persecutions at the hands of the Nazis. Juggling deals from Houston to California, and persuading his crotchety aunt to part with a valuable painting by Emanuel de Witte, Lodewijk first bumbles and then speeds toward a fated confrontation with Fleishig's Mafia bosses, eventually stealing back the de Witte that Fleishig has desperately stolen from him, though not before evading a couple of attempts on his life. Throughout, Schwartz clogs the already clogged narrative with a dry- toned analysis of the glorious history of Dutch painting, snoozy travelogues of Amsterdam, and with a full chapter that attacks the mandarin lifestyles of scholars.

Those specially interested in the Dutch masters may find a degree of allure here; readers in search of sharper plotting and more daring characters, though, may as well steer clear. If the art world were as unequivocally callow as Schwartz implies, it would have self- destructed ages ago.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780714530086
  • Publisher: Boyars, Marion Publishers, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/1/1996
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 0.87 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2003

    A Contrary Review

    I have to take exception to the two previous reviews of this book. While I would not call it a mystery masterpiece I found it a good read and informative on many levels. Not being an expert on Dutch masters I found the information on the history and techniques of the masters a good introduction. Likewise the insights given on the art market and the auction process were very informative and made me want to know more. There are interesting observations on Jewish history and descriptions of Amsterdam architecture and current social commetary. Most importantly, I am a reader not an art expert and I found this book nicely written and the story captivating--qualities I have found increasingly scarce in recent years. If you are looking for information read a text book. If you want a good story and would like to get familier with regard to the painterly arts and the art market try this book.

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