FOR THE MINDS
AND WILLS OF MEN
Mystery / Art History
Publisher: Boyle & Dalton
Date of Publication: October 16, 2022
Number of Pages: 310 pages
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A gripping, historical art mystery set in 1950s New York, For the Minds and Wills of Men is a story of art, love, and Cold War fear, suspicion, and betrayal.
MANHATTAN, 1953. Fear of communist subversion and espionage are tearing America apart. Abstract expressionism is on the verge of exploding, making New York the cultural epicenter of the world. While recovering a stolen Jackson Pollock for a wealthy client, art insurer Will Oxley falls for the client’s daughter, Liz Bower, who leads him deep into the rebellious and seductive world of the abstract expressionist painters, their Village bar haunts and East Hampton binges. But when Will learns the painting-and Liz-may be hiding communist secrets better left hidden, he finds himself torn between exposing the girl he loves or risking his life by trusting her instead. Realizing nothing is as it seems, Will is caught between communist espionage, secret government programs, and the grip of cold war fear, suspicion, and betrayal where trust is all he has left…
With post-World War II New York, 1950s avant-garde art world, and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings as background, the novel tells the story of abstract expressionism and mid-century American politics- through the thrilling search for a stolen Jackson Pollock.
PRAISE FOR FOR THE MINDS AND WILLS OF MEN
2023 INDIEREADER AWARD WINNER: 1ST PLACE FICTION
“Lanier brilliantly evokes the energy and excitement of the New York art world in this Cold War thriller with an artistic twist. Along the way, he gives us fascinating insights into Abstract Expressionism and the power of art to communicate values and ideas.” –Ross King, Acclaimed art historian and New York Times bestselling author of The Judgment of Paris, Brunelleschi’s Dome, and Michelangelo and The Pope’s Ceiling.
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A thrilling step back in time.
Will Oxley, who works for an insurance company that has just started insuring artwork – based mainly on his recommendation – has to find a stolen painting that the company has insured. It’s not as easy, or straightforward, as his other recoveries, and Will is drawn into a complicated plot – as is the reader of this well-written book.
Liz, the daughter of the owner of the painting, introduces Will to some of the famous impressionistic artists of the time, including Pollock, who painted the artwork that was taken. The ensuing investigation happens at the same time that the House Un-American Activities Committee is holding hearings, during which many artists have been fingered as possible communist spies.
That period of McCarthyism and the finger-pointing, and suspicions, is something I clearly remember, and the author has portrayed that very realistically, capturing the fear and insecurity of people caught up in that web of conspiracy fears.
It’s not surprising that Will falls for the beautiful, smart, and articulate Liz, and her hesitancy to commit to a relationship adds to the tension and drama in the story. Just when Will thinks the relationship is going to take one more step, she stops him, and the reader shares his question of “Why?” Is she hiding something?
The book works so well on many levels. Will, a veteran of WWII, has nightmares and suffers from PTSD, and the narrative shows how debilitating that can be at times. Having Will calm himself by looking at a painting is an unusual way of dealing with the trauma, but it works for his character. It also keeps the story clearly focused on art, which is cleverly used to drive so many parts of the plot.
An artistic touch also enhances the narrative. There are descriptions so vivid, that the reader could be looking at a painting, or a scene that has invited an artist to pick up a brush. It’s always a pleasure to read narrative that is so engaging.
The mystery of who took the painting, and why, is well laid out, and there are so many surprises as Will navigates the investigation. The deeper he digs to find the answers, the more he questions who he can trust, even Liz. That tension is almost palpable as the story progresses and kept me reading long past my bedtime.
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical novel and recommend it to people who enjoy a good mystery that is couched in a story of trust and love and intrigue.
Jeff Lanier is an award-winning author. He earned bachelor’s degrees in history and art history at The University of Texas, Austin, with a focus on the History of American Culture through Art and Literature. He has a master’s from Rice University, is a member of the American Society of Aesthetics, and currently lives in Houston with his wife and three children.
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For the Minds and Wills of Men
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