Some months back there was small buzz in India around a crime thriller named Lead Tin Yellow by Doug Gunnery. I read reviews and articles in newspapers and newsmagazines about this novel. Why so much attention to this particular crime thriller in India I wondered, when there are so many crime thrillers by all kinds of writers all over the world coming out all the time. The reviews and articles said that the thriller is set in the American Midwest and there were hints that the author is actually a well-known Indian academic, who has taken on the name Doug Gunnery as his nom de plume. It was also hinted that the initials of his name could give a clue. It was all so mysterious initially.
When I read the reviews I saw that the thriller linked a Renaissance painter to a Vietnam War veteran. This fictitious painter, named Paola Astuta, was supposed to be Rembrandt’s assistant, and is famous for creating a vibrant yellow colour by mixing tin with lead, which came to be his signature, sort of. Hence, the title. Astuta’s flaming yellows purportedly made Rembrandt jealous and therefore was not allowed to fulfil his potential or become famous. So, whatever remained of Astuta’s paintings have become rare collector’s items in the modern world, with very few people knowing about his paintings and coveting them assiduously. Into this Renaissance yarn comes a rich Vietnamese who had a collection of Astutas, an American war veteran who takes off with the Astutas during the last days of the Vietnam War, and the war veteran’s two sons. The war veteran hides this treasure for long years, but the secret is somehow leaked and he is chased and killed on a bridge in Massachusetts. The soldier leaves a code behind for his son and the thriller is all about the son deciphering the code, finding the treasure, and tracking down the killers.
This is the general outline of the story. I was intrigued. So many threads – Renaissance, artists, colour, jealousy, Vietnam, art theft, journalist son, American Midwest. I wanted to read the book and see how these threads are strung together. Finally, I bought it and read it and I must say it is really good and so different from many crime thrillers that one has read.
As for the author, he has revealed his real identity. He is indeed a well-known Indian academic. It is all over the place now, you can check it out. Meanwhile, three cheers for Lead Tin Yellow.