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The Swan Thieves – Elizabeth Kostova

(Little, Brown, $38.99)

Well before Twilight hit the stands, Elizabeth Kostova wrote an intriguing vampire story called The Historian, which was the first debut novel ever to make it to number one on the New York Times bestseller list.

Like Twilight, the narrator of The Historian is a teenage girl but it is not a love story – rather, it’s a historical blend of fiction and folklore that has the 16-year-old trailing her father’s hunt for Count Dracula in the 1970s. I loved it and so did three million other people.

Now, five years later, comes Elizabeth Kostova’s second novel, The Swan Thieves. The follow-up to a runaway hit is always a difficult one. There’s huge pressure from the publishers and the public to recreate that initial success without just telling the same story.

For my money, I think she has done it with The Swan Thieves. There are no vampires so she’s going to lose that market – which, it turns out, is massive – but I think she does a solid job of weaving together an interesting story from several different angles.

Lonely psychiatrist Andrew oarlow’s interest is piqued when he collects a patient who has just attacked a painting at the National Gallery of Art. The patient, Robert oliver, was himself a talented artist but has lost his marbles over an obsession with the same lovely face, which he just keeps painting again and again.

Who is she and why is he so obsessed with her? These questions will not be answered by Robert himself because he refuses to speak so Andrew goes on the hunt, tracking down Robert’s ex-wife, his girlfriend and anyone else who can help unlock the mystery of the talented artist’s enigmatic muse.

“Is art as exciting as vampires?” asks one book review website and, of course, the answer is no, but while not quite as gripping as the whole stake-through-the heart thing, The Swan Thieves is a good read for those who love a little lonely hearts modern mystery mixed up with their French Impressionism.

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