The theft of four priceless paintings—or are they really priceless?—threatens to expose all manner of malfeasance in a brutish British museum.
1989. Sir Eric Butler-Minton, widely known as Flounce, has been dead since September, but George Lepage, who’s replaced him as director of the Hulliborn Regional Museum and Gallery, is having a hard time emerging from his predecessor’s long shadow. Flounce’s widow, Lady Penelope, remains active in every aspect of the Hulliborn’s affairs, from soliciting her late husband’s advice to conducting an affair with Quentin Youde, the museum’s art director. Stubborn rumors about Flounce’s involvement with a whippet, a windsock, some haverstock straps and the mysterious Mrs. Cray continue to swirl. Neville Falldew, the former Paleontology head whom Flounce dismissed in the face of budgetary cuts, is spearheading demonstrations against the Hulliborn. The tipping point comes when Vincent Simberdy (Asiatic Antiquities) and his solicitor wife, Olive, enlist noted burglar Wayne Passow, one of Olive’s perennial clients, to help them scare Falldew away from the premises, and Passow takes it upon himself to break into the museum and steal a Monet and three paintings that Youde certainly thought were El Grecos when he paid for them. There’s much, much more, all of it deliriously quick-paced, deadpan and nasty, from the curative sex a traumatized postgraduate student begs George to provide to a polysyllabic, low-minded pair of Japanese cultural emissaries. And then, just when you can’t imagine how this circus can possibly end, James (Noose, 2013, etc.) pulls off one last trick, and the whole caravan vanishes in a puff of smoke.
Guaranteed to satisfy all your most mean-spirited fantasies about the gatekeepers of high culture, whose appetites turn out to be as primitive as those of the lowlifes in James’ noir procedurals about Harper and Iles (Vacuum, 2011, etc.).