Friday, November 08, 2013

The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan

First Line: "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Lenard."

Dr. Genevieve Lenard, an insurance investigator and world-renowned expert in nonverbal communication, is about to be taken light years away from her comfort zone. Despite her high-functioning Autism, she leads a successful, independent life mainly due to the rigid routines she has set for herself. When one of her boss's friends needs help with the investigation into the murder of a young artist, Lenard very reluctantly agrees to work on the case. As a result, she's thrown out of her safe world of limited social interaction and into daily contact with a charming thief, a hulk of a bodyguard, and that gruff, insensitive friend of her boss as she searches ever deeper into the murky world of art fraud.

Anyone who has watched episodes of television series like Bones or Monk, or who has seen the movie Temple Grandin is going to have a bit of insight into the fascinating character of Dr. Genevieve Lenard. Lenard may have a very high IQ, and she may be extremely successful at what she does, but it is due to her finding someone who is willing to deal with her on her own terms and special needs. Social interaction is not Lenard's thing; to do her best work, she needs to keep herself at a distance, and distance is certainly not what she's allowed in The Gauguin Connection.

Author Estelle Ryan does an excellent job in portraying her quirky, prickly, and nervous main character, although in the first third of the book Ryan does become very repetitive in cataloging facial muscles and Lenard's habits. The first person narrative works well in getting the reader into the mind of this unusual woman.

The author also does a fine job in bringing the reader into the shadowy world of art forgery and art fraud-- from the scruffy apartments of the forgers to the glittering world of the wealthy whose preferred palette is that of theft and deception. Ryan also creates a real sense of fear and danger in a scene when Lenard is faced with three of the men she is trying to find.

The book is filled with unusual, interesting characters, and I learned much about how people with high-functioning Autism learn to cope and contribute. The shadowy side of the art world that we see was also informative and conveyed a true sense of danger; however, there were a couple of things that felt a bit uncoordinated. I've already mentioned the repetitive elements as Ryan set up her main character, and the other awkwardness I felt has much to do with the setting.

This book supposedly takes place in Strasbourg, France, but-- other than a rare mention of a medieval street or tower-- The Gauguin Connection feels as though it could be set just about anywhere in the world. In addition, the characters all sound American, although they're not. I have to admit that my mind's eye and ear missed those bits of authenticity. Even though I felt the lack of these elements, what is there-- a fascinating main character and a whale of a good story-- has me wanting to read more about Dr. Genevieve Lenard.

The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan
ISBN: 9781480122987
CreateSpace © 2012
Paperback, 438 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #1 Genevieve Lenard mystery
Rating: B-
Source: Purchased as an eBook from Amazon. 


  1. Cathy - This one sounds like such an interesting book! It's quite hard to depict a character with Autism unless you really know the subtleties of it, so that in itself fascinates me. You make a good point about the sense of place though. Sometimes something like speech patterns makes all the difference.

    1. It can, and it does. I was reading along with that slight dog-with-a-bone worrying in my mind, wondering what was wrong when I realized that everyone was speaking colloquial American English. I learned to cope with it as I read, but it really threw me out of the story for a while.


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