Title: Rembrandt Sings by Michael Johnston
Length: 214 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Ambitious art historian Bill Maguire searches Paris for a subject for his doctoral thesis and follows up faint clues about once famous abstract painter Alexander Golden. He finds himself in Carmel listening to the death-bed confessions of Joe Rembrandt, an art forger on an industrial scale, and meets beautiful Anna Glover whose life seems somehow connected with the dying man.
But when Anna’s lawyer boss completely debunks Rembrandt’s story, he decides it’s time to get out and write his thesis. Unable, however, to get out of his mind Joe’s assertion that he found where Golden disappeared to with his mistress and a cache of his never-beforeseen canvases that could be worth millions, Bill searches around Arles for Golden’s farmhouse hideaway that probably never existed outside Rembrandt’s imagination.
He finds Anna there before him and hears yet another version of Joe’s story. Together, they make the discovery that adds love, greed, insanity, academic dishonesty and very likely murder into the mix before leading to a completely unforeseen outcome.
In Michael Johnston’s Rembrandt Sings, Bill Maguire’s research for his doctoral thesis turns into quite the mystery following his interview with dying art forger Joe Rembrandt. Bill’s search for the truth leads to some shocking discoveries that change the course of his life and ultimately, his career.
Rembrandt Sings is told from both Bill’s and Joe’s perspectives and each man’s voice is quite distinctive. The novel moves back and forth in time switching between Bill’s present day diary entries and his past interviews with Joe.
Joe is a fanciful and convincing storyteller and he ends each of his interviews with a cliffhanger that leaves Bill eagerly awaiting their next meeting. Following each of the interviews, the point of view then switches to Bill’s. Bill ruminates on the information Joe has divulged and he often reflects on his own personal history. This form of storytelling is unique but it is quite effective.
Rembrandt Sings is not a fast paced mystery. It is a character driven story that is pretty slow moving until the last quarter of the novel. It is at this point in the story where Bill is actively investigating the mystery surrounding Alexander Golden. Unexpected twists and turns then keep the pages turning at a blistering rate until the novel’s jaw dropping and stunning conclusion.
Michael Johnston was born in Leith in 1936 and grew up in the Scottish Borders. At school he was bookish and not keen on rugby. In 1950, he auditioned for the BBC and read a story on Children’s Hour. Leaving school he studied Textile Design but, in 1953, he also auditioned for the BBC Younger Generation programmes and for the next five years worked as an occasional freelance interviewer, presenter and question panel member.
In 1955, he spent a summer working in France. He used his BBC experience to arrange an interview with Françoise Sagan, then a teenage French novelist, which was part of a radio documentary he recorded, wrote and presented. He went on to write several radio documentaries for the BBC including one about the relatively unknown romance between Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air in Ramsay MacDonald’s cabinet and the Rumanian novelist, Princess Marthe Bibesco, in which the actress Janet Suzman played the leading role.
In 2001, he embarked on his too long postponed ‘career’ as a novelist and a programme of study with the Open University culminating in a first class BA (Honours) in Literature.
In 2009, Michael was awarded an MA (with Distinction) in Modern and Contemporary Literature by Birkbeck College, University of London. His dissertation was on the impact of Margaret Thatcher on contemporary fiction.
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