Middleton, author of some 20 novels (Valley of Decision, 1987, was the first to appear in the US), has produced a workmanlike effort about an English painter intent on artistic integrity in opposition to commercial, political, and aesthetic manipulation. John Worth has painted trees and quietly textured canvases for a good long time--and now must decide whether to compete seriously for a commission to do a mural in a London house for an Arab who ""wants colour."" The novel builds around this slight plot, examining the thin line between ambition and expediency. Worth's girlfriend Ursula wants him to compete and to put human meaning in his paintings (""You could do with going raving mad""); Walden, the advisor for the London client, tries to convince him to change (""You need stretching""). Meanwhile, his teacher and friend Turnball is breaking down in the afterglow of marriage to Millicent, a woman younger than his own children, and Turnball's inability to adapt to change (he eventually commits suicide) serves as counterpoint to Worth's own truculence. Middleton fills the novel with long (sometimes tedious) conversations as Worth engages in the process of remaking himself to his own satisfaction. When the client's advisor urges Worth to do something violent, he peoples his canvas with corpses, and Ursula accuses him of aestheticism: ""You don't know if they're communists or fascists."" Worth goes to the scene of a riot to make some sketches; meets Eddie Smith, a collector, and Jo Fearer, a graduate student who decides to do a monograph about him; continues to have his conversations; and finally paints the title canvas--a Christ with a Sword. With the help of the advisor and the collector--but without compromising himself in any essential way--Worth ""makes"" it both financially and arstically. Middleton's tour of the English art world is rather programmatic, but it successfully explores the quirky relationships between art and commerce.