Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Jade Venus: Review

There were patriotic posters and banner everywhere now, late in 1943, and the lines before the ticket windows were longer, but otherwise it was the same.

The Jade Venus (1945 per my copy) by George Harmon Coxe is a book that is the most tied to its period of any that I've read so far for any of Rich's Crimes of the Century posts. It's set in 1943 and Kent Murdock, Coxe's camera-wielding newspaper photographer who often finds himself in the midst of murder investigations, is now a Captain in the Army. Most interestingly, he is a Monuments Man--in that corps of men recently made famous in film who saved many of Europe's treasures from the ravages of war. He has come back to the States to make sure that a priceless collection of Italian artwork has reached its rightful owner, Professor Albert Andrada. He is also interested in a less valuable painting sent along with the collection called The Jade Venus. This rather ugly piece of modern artwork features a green lady (thus the name), but it also hides an important secret. But before Murdock can get to the Professor's house, he is intercepted by two strong-armed goons who kidnap him, steal his papers and official insignia, and who visit the Professor in his stead. It soon becomes apparent that the secrets of the green lady are known to far more people than Murdock anticipated. And someone doesn't mind get their hands on the secrets. 

Murdock was well-mannered, intelligent, and well educated, he could talk the language of cops and bookies and gamblers and circulation hustlers as though he understood them. He could go anywhere and hold his own, whether it was a dowager's drawing-room or a South Boston bar, and thought he got mussed up sometimes--and most photographers did--it never seemed to bother him.

Kent Murdock finds himself not only trying to track down the missing painting, but also hunting a killer. Two people will die and two more will be threatened before the final show-down in a painter's studio. Murdock's photographer's eye and sharp mind pick up on the visual and verbal clues that help him bring the crimes home to the proper villain.

As I mentioned above, this book is very much tied to the era in which it was written. Our hero is a military man who has been using his photographer's skills and knowledge of art to assist in the efforts of the Monuments Men to preserve and rescue pieces of European artwork. When he arrives home, he is greeted by the patriotic banners and posters. One of his fellow newspaper men has been sent home after capture and a stint in a concentration camp in Italy. The Professor's brothers have been working feverishly back in war-torn Italy to hide artwork from the Nazis. Everywhere you look there are mentions of the war-time era.

The book itself is a very interesting--made all the more so by its mention of the Monuments Men considering that the story of this branch of the military has just become prominent in recent years. I enjoyed reading about it from the time period rather than through the lens of history and Hollywood. The mystery is fairly well clued. I didn't pick out the culprit, but I do think a sharper eye than mine could spot the clues to do so. Several suspects and false trails give the reader plenty to think about and work through to find the solution and the cast of characters are interesting as well.  ★★and a half.

With the picture on the back cover, this counts for the "Boat" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. It is also, as already noted, my first entry in the Crimes of the Century post for April.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this one Bev - Coxe is one of those writers from that era that I always hear basically good things about but have not ever actually read. I really do want to remedy that !

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio, I haven't read many by Coxe yet, but I have enjoyed those that I've tried. I have seen posts on him that say his earlier work may be a bit more problematic and/or less well-written.

fredamans said...

Sounds like quite an edge-of-the-seat read for the era.

Ryan said...

I think this one sounds right up my alley.

Rick Mills said...

Under my reading lamp right now!