Brand is one of the world's leading art detectives, responsible for the recovery of lost treasures worth more than 200 million, including paintings by Dal and Picasso. This riveting tale-already a bestseller in his native Netherlands-is the story of how he goes undercover to solve the mystery of what happened to Hitler's favourite statue, depicting two bronze horses, which disappeared during the bombing of Berlin in 1945. In so doing, he must infiltrate a terrifying world ruled by neo-Nazis and former KGB agents, where Third Reich memorabilia sells for millions.
Unless you’re the sort of person who has a drawerful of SS buttons, then, it is hard to be moved by the horses as artworks or historical objects. German museums are starting to exhibit “tainted” art as part of what is called a Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “past-times-coping-strategy”, and this book feels like a similar exercise, with a double shot of adrenaline. I finished it feeling breathless — it is gripping — but also a little tainted myself.
Contemporary reports of the discovery mention the part played by a 76-year-old Berlin art dealer, Traude Sauer, who was the first to be told they were up for sale. Needless to say, Brand minimises Sauer’s contribution in favour of his own. It was, in truth, a joint effort by many different people, though Brand seems to have played the key role. “If this affair has taught me anything,” he writes, “it’s that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.” It is indeed, and he and his editor might have heeded that simple fact by producing an account that was less melodramatic, and far more convincing.